asian american colleges, part deux

Last week, I asked: why are there no Asian American colleges, in the same way we have tribal colleges or HBCUs? A few observations:

  • There are Asian serving campuses, such as the UC’s in California. But this is not part of their mission or organizational identity.
  • There are a few Christian colleges that serve mainly Koreans, but, once again, the mission is religious, not ethnic.
  • Most comments focused on the fact that Asian migrants did not have precisely the same sort of exclusion from the mainstream as African Americans or Native Americans.

These are informative comments, and I think the general thrust is correct. But that would suggest a *low* number of such institutions compared to the population, not zero (!). For example, I noted in the comments that Jews had a relatively similar position – voluntary migration; initial exclusion/limited entrance to higher ed; opening up post-1960s; and so forth. But there are a notable number of Jewish oriented institutions.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 24, 2013 at 12:03 am

Posted in education, fabio

21 Responses

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  1. Two thoughts. First, the big wave of Jewish migration and the big wave of Asian migration occurred in different cultural eras. In the earlier era, when Jews migrated to the U.S., explicit discrimination was much more acceptable (see the case of Jews and the Emory Dental School for instance. Whereas in the later era, civil rights legislation had already been passed, and Asians were far less likely to be victims of explicit discrimination.

    Second, many Asians who were unable to directly get a green card used education as the route to a work visa, and the work visa as a route to a green card. (This is what I and many of my classmates did.) This entailed being a student at a (non-Asian) American university, which built enough trust and familiarity that this cohort of Asians was comfortable sending their sons and daughters to a similar university.


    Chris M

    July 24, 2013 at 12:39 am

  2. That “Asians” is less of a homogeneous group than African Americans (thus precluding the formation of an “Asian identity” that would provide the framework for this kind of institution)? Also, that they are not seen as a disadvantaged minority as much as African Americans and Native Americans?

    Also, that mass migration from South Asia and East Asia is rather recent and people from those countries seem to have little trouble in finding places at American universities?



    July 24, 2013 at 1:02 am

  3. Also, Jews have a much longer history as a diaspora and the setting up of Jewish-oriented schools at all levels (not just universities) has historically been a way of maintaining their culture and identity alive.



    July 24, 2013 at 1:11 am

  4. I was late responding the last time, but I commend that response to you now.



    July 24, 2013 at 2:51 am

  5. Oh, just realized I logged in as my alter ego. Anyway my late comment to your last post I think is the correct one. Asians are not like Jews. Jews think they are a group. “Asians” do NOT think they are a group. In Hawaii, there is more consciousness and there are what are empirically Asian schools, but Asians are a majority and thus in Hawaii they are like the HWCU, the white schools, in the mainland. There is actually a literature in Asian American history about which I guess I know more than most of the folks on this blog, as little as I know.



    July 24, 2013 at 3:03 am

  6. o.w.: Sure, but there are some pretty big Asian American groups, like Chinese Americans, that do think of themselves as a group. why no colleges from them? Been here for 100 years+, marginalized in the pre-1960s era, etc. Chinese Americans are nearly 4 million strong. There are states with smaller populations that have more colleges.



    July 24, 2013 at 3:06 am

  7. Jews jhave an easier time establishing a common history because they are a single ethnic group. The label “Asian American” refers to wildly disparate ethnic groups: Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Filipinos, Thais, etc. It takes more time to establish a set of organizations based on a common identity when that identity is (maybe) in a process of being established.

    So yes, I believe eventually there are likely to be Asian universities in the US. The social processes leading to them, however, only started very recently and have not yet coalesced.



    July 24, 2013 at 3:11 am

  8. Jews are an ethnic group but also a religious community. Maybe the religious mission helped to establish “Jewish oriented institutions”.



    July 24, 2013 at 3:39 am

  9. Chinese are the wrong group. 52% of “Asian Americans” were of Japanese descent in 1960. Chinese immigrants in the 19th century were primarily men without families and they died out over time. Coming into WWII, it was Japanese Americans who might have had distinctive colleges.

    Again, before you are so sure you know what you are talking about, check out the history of Hawaii. The mobilization in Hawaii was primarily a labor movement and the sources I know do not mention colleges. But if you are really serious about this you have to check out Hawaiian history. In the mainland, Pre-WWII the large “Asian” populations were in California and Seattle.

    I’m NOT saying that “Asians are smart they don’t need colleges” is the explanation, I’m saying look into the specific history of the specific Asian groups in the US. I do think the risk of exclusion is the crux, and I repeat that pre-WWII there are no Mexican colleges that I know of. Blacks and Native People have a very different kind of history, structurally, as national minorities rather than immigrant groups. Jewish schools seem to me to fit into the organizational niche of religious colleges, of which the US has a plethora.



    July 24, 2013 at 3:54 am

  10. o.w.: Here’s the reason I keep pressing on this issue. A lot of the explanations are ad-hoc and the experience of Asian America is so diverse that you would think that somewhere this would have happened. For example, you might say: ah – well, Asian migrants were mostly men. Then why didn’t people create men’s colleges? Maybe they *could* have been framed as in need of help by White philanthropists. They could’ve had men’s colleges that were vocational. Then, some commenters said: it’s post – 1960s. Well, lots of post-1960s groups have started their own colleges. And so forth.

    Just think about it from the higher ed perspective. Almost all groups of any size – gender, ethnic, racial, religious, professional, corporate, political – have their hands in the higher ed game in one way or another. The gap for Asian America is quite striking. Think about the tiny groups that have colleges:

    – Wyoming (University of Wyoming)
    – transcendental meditation followers (Maharishi University)
    – the employees of General Motors (GM Institute /Kettering)
    – naval architects (Webb)
    – Appalachian students (Berea College)
    – Navajo Indians (Dine College)
    – people obsessed with Latin and Greek classics (St. John’s College)

    These are all legit & accredited schools. If you go to experimental orgs that were not accredited, we’ve seen functional, though often short lived, colleges for black nationalists, avant garde artists, and alternative medicine.

    In other words, it isn’t *that* hard to come up with a few hundred people who want a school tailored to their very specific identify. But for Asian Americans, it simply isn’t happening. Out of millions of people across three centuries of history, it just didn’t happen. You may find that obvious, I don’t.



    July 24, 2013 at 4:14 am

  11. I ask you again. Where are the Mexican colleges? Before WWII?



    July 24, 2013 at 4:29 am

  12. Actually, there are some institutions, mainly in Texas, that pre-date WWII and now currently serve mainly Mexican/Mexican American populations. For example, the University of the Incarnate Word (a Catholic college) has about 58% Hispanic population and dates to 1881. My hypothesis is that if there are any Mexican oriented colleges that are pre-WWII, then they would be small Catholic institutions in Texas, Florida, New Mexico, or California.

    Here is a recent list of Hispanic oriented institutions.Most date from the 1960s expansion of higher ed, so I grant your point. But I bet if I scoured the history books, I would win the point on technicalities. The history of higher education is scattered with all manner of creatures, many that we forget about, or never knew about because of their limited audience.

    Click to access hsilist-2011-12.pdf

    This list also shows the issue. If we take demography as our measure, then we have 356 hispanic serving institutions. If we focus on mission (“We serve the needs of Latino students/diverse populations”), probably a few dozen. There are 18 million Asian Americans and roughly 52 million Latinos in America. We have plenty of functionally Asian American schools by demography, but there should be at least one or two places that explicitly frame themselves as for Asian Americans.



    July 24, 2013 at 4:46 am

  13. “For example, the University of the Incarnate Word (a Catholic college) has about 58% Hispanic population and dates to 1881.”

    Is that an institution specifically created to serve Hispanic populations or just an institution that attracts Hispanics in a similar way some University of California campuses (or Ohio State) attract Asians?

    Your question is indeed interesting, but we have to look at major trends to figure out an answer. If I ask: why there seem to be no “institutions aimed at Polish Americans” (almost 10 million people according to the last US Census). Well, we have to look into the history of this group and its assimilation process first.



    July 24, 2013 at 6:13 am

  14. I can’t believe we’re still talking about this.

    It really is all about the combination of exclusion and population density. Jews were excluded from elite higher education until relatively recently (remember CCNY is the Harvard of the Jewry), and so they form their own institutions. Native Americans and African Americans were excluded from all institutions so they form their own (particularly in areas of high population density–there are no HBCUs in Idaho). “Asian” Americans were never at significant levels of population density when exclusion operated so hence no need.

    But even this storyline, like the posters, discounts the fact that numerous “Asian” American Christian organizations have formed their own institutions of education and other civil society associations. If we buy the poster’s position, there is no reason to exclude these.



    July 24, 2013 at 6:43 am

  15. In line with what cwalken mentions, the different eras of U.S. racial dynamics is important to consider. The formation of HBCUs and Tribal Colleges was a result of Jim Crow, a distinct era of U.S. history. How the racial structure and discourse of society frames different racial and ethnic groups is important in relation to how we understand “exclusion.” This obviously shapes their approaches to establishing organizations.

    The more recent immigration of different Asian and Pacific Islander groups is in a post-Civil Rights/post-Bakke/post-Reagan/post-Hopwood/Grutter-Gratz era. “Reverse discrimination” claims by whites grabs the news, and there are centers/groups that purposely go out and get clients to push this agenda. The “post-racism” discourse and response you often get now reinserts the age-old assimilation trope of “why can’t you just be American?” (read: be like whites). This changing approach to race is supported by recent SCOTUS decisions as well as other race-related court cases at various levels, which ultimately allows whites to dismiss racial discrimination (except in “reverse discrimination” cases).

    Another aspect of this is to think about what the response(s) would be to an existing college changing its mission to be an “AACU” or a new institution starting-up. This could play into why some orgs may change or not. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I’m sure the news articles would have a lot of “why do they need their own college” type of responses coupled with the “see? They’re racist against whites and other people to? That’s Asian supremacy!” in the comments and discussions. It’s not that far of a leap to see where the assimilation and model minority/yellow peril discourse starts to come back in a supposedly “post-racism” era around different racial and ethnic groups. How HBCUs and Tribal Colleges are described by the mainstream is not the same, and it would not be the same if Asian and Pacific Islanders were to form a similar type of higher education institution.

    In the end, you could think of this as part of an ever-evolving version of social closure on a national scale to keep the white status quo in traditional higher education…or you could just call it another part of racism in America.



    July 24, 2013 at 12:51 pm

  16. I agree with cwalken. Have you looked at the Pew report on Asian Americans? They might have some data on what Asian Americans look for in educational institutions. Also, there might be some data in the American Community Survey that address this.


    Chris M

    July 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm

  17. Rob Teranishi wrote a good overview of the current state of APIs in higher ed last year:

    Teranishi, R. T. (2012). Asian American and Pacific Islander students and the institutions that serve them. Change Magazine.

    I wonder if consciousness raising among those who claim a pan-ethnic Asian American identity will diverge from previous immigration patterns in the sense that it will be the later generations, rather than the earlier generations, that press for recognition and change. I agree with one of olderwoman’s points above that many immigrants from Asia to the US don’t realize they are “Asian American” until they have been here for a while. Thus, there is some amount of ambivalence re: so-called “Asian American” issues. Moreover, though I am Asian American and want to emphasize that I do NOT speak for the group as a whole, in my experience, many first gen (i.e., post 1965) parents would not been keen to send their children to a niche school, outside of the Christian schools mentioned earlier. For better or worse, in my experience, many Asian American parents want their children to go to a school with mainstream institutional prestige (e.g., the “Tiger Mother” – though I don’t want to get into a debate about THAT here…). Asian Americans lack institutions with a prestigious history of serving the population, a la Brandeis or even the University of Michigan.

    Also, given Hawaii’s dramatically different colonial/immigration history from the mainland, I think it is more of an outlier than a representation of education among immigrants from Asia as a whole.



    July 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm

  18. Is it possibly a confluence of much of the above? I agree with o.w., hillbillysociologist and others that treatment of minorities varies by group and by era. The exclusion of Jewish and African Americans in higher ed. historically spurred the creation of group-focused parallel institution. Exclusion of Chinese and Japanese coupled with much smaller numbers prior to 1965 probably explains the limited possibilities of developing higher ed institutions prior to 1965. After 1965, the picture seems a lot more complicated. There’s a higher proportion of Asian immigrants that already had a college education. For many of them, the opportunity for their children to advance is tied to the reputation of elite American colleges and universities in Asia. This lowers the incentive to create a pan-Asian competing university. As some have also pointed out, there is no shared ethno-religious culture that unifies Asian Americans. At best we might expect a Korean-Protestant college, or an Indian-Hindu college, or a Filipino-Catholic college where the religion and ethnicity of these groups (both in the US and country of ancestry – with the exception of Koreans) overlap considerably. Each of these groups has the resources to start an Asian-ethnic specific college, but again I think the pull toward elite universities will counter the ability to mobilize sufficient resources to set up a college. In echoing an earlier comment, why would someone want to start such a school when there are no systemic barriers to entry, and there is limited evidence of systemic problems in higher education (matriculation, discrimination etc.) that might warrant an Asian ethnic-religious specific school.


    Jerry Z. Park

    July 24, 2013 at 3:34 pm

  19. Let’s make sure we are all on the same page, as there are two meanings of “exclusion” we are using, the generic exclusion in the sense of being a target of discrimination — which applied to all non-white non-Protestant groups at one time or another — and the more specific type of exclusion which I meant to refer to with respect to Asian Americans which was the specific risk of being deported which (per my reading of Takaki and other AsianAm sources) was a fear in the minds of Asian immigrants through 1950 due to the fact that Asian immigrants were not allowed to become citizens, unlike all the other racial groups including even Blacks. I think the historians of Asian American collective action make a point of stressing this specific fear. Jews did not have the same citizenship bar. The internment of Japanese American citizens and the deportation of some Japanese Americans during and after WWII fed into these fears.

    The whole “you are not one of us” thing that Asians experienced as the permanent foreigners I think is relevant.

    Agreeing that Hawaii is not “typical,” but statistics on the % Asian in the US include Hawaii.



    July 24, 2013 at 5:02 pm

  20. Incidentally, there is a Hindu University of America.


    Chris M

    July 24, 2013 at 8:10 pm

  21. Chris M: ha!



    July 24, 2013 at 10:33 pm

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