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All posts copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le.
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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

September 29, 2005

Written by C.N.

New Politics of Race at Berkeley

Despite the college admissions scandal of the late 1980s and early 1990s, statistics these days show that Asian Americans are disproportionately overrepresented as students in many of the country’s top universities, especially in California, the state with the largest Asian American population. An article at Inside Higher Education highlights how Asian Americans are approaching 50% of the student population at U.C. Berkeley and how this has led to changes in the racial politics on campus:

When Fred Chang, a senior and president of Pi Alpha Phi, came to the University of California at Berkeley five years ago, he saw not one, but two Asian American fraternities — Pi Alpha Phi and Lambda Phi Epsilon — representing the only two nationally recognized Asian American fraternities in the nation. Only a handful of colleges in the nation outside of California have both. . . .

[Chang] said membership [at Pi Alpha Phi] has been cut in half in his time at Berkeley, and now there are only 16 brothers, all Asian American. He said he doesn’t “really see the point” of having clubs that are exclusively Asian, and does not think Pi Alpha Phi can survive unless non-Asian students are recruited.

Chang thinks that the increasing number of Asians will actually doom some exclusively Asian groups because students don’t feel the need to join a club to fit in. “Everyone tries to assimilate,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a future here in trying to hold on to [exclusively Asian] tradition.” . . .

Chang said there’s even some backlash over Asian organizations. Lambda Phi Epsilon, the other Asian fraternity, no longer attends Interfraternity Council meetings because members didn’t feel welcome. “A lot of the mainstream fraternities throw events together,” he said, but “we’re not as welcome.

In other words, in an environment where being Asian meant that you were in the minority, it would be natural for Asian American students to want to unite around their similar status and situations. However, in this case, as Asian Americans are increasingly becoming the norm — or at least make up a numerical majority — on many campuses around the country, the pressure now is to assimilate and disperse so that other racial groups are not threatened.

Interesting, isn’t it? It seems that the tables have been turned — Whites who used to be the majority and the norm and increasingly feeling resentful of no longer being the majority and the norm around campus these days. It’s actually quite similar to what happened when many suburbs in CA shifted from predominantly White to predominantly Asian — many longtime White residents resented the “takeover” of “their” neighborhood.

The reality is that this demographic shift toward larger numbers of Asians on campuses and in American society in general is not going to stop any time soon. But change always brings resistance and conflict. This article illustrates one example of what that conflict might look like. Needless to say, there are sure to be more to come . . .

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "New Politics of Race at Berkeley" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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