WORDS HURT

Chi­nese stu­dents study­ing over­seas share sto­ries of dis­crim­i­na­tion on cam­pus

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Lin Luwen

When 23-year-old Cheng Zhang­tong packed her bag upon leav­ing the Nether­lands, one im­age stuck out: stun­ning tulips grow­ing be­low beau­ti­ful wind­mills in a fairy tale city.

How­ever, the im­age

wasn’t enough to blind her from her ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ences abroad. She never ex­pected that dis­crim­i­na­tion would hap­pen to her as a Chi­nese.

“The pro­fes­sor’s at­ti­tudes to­wards Chi­nese stu­dents and Euro­pean stu­dents are to­tally dif­fer­ent,” Cheng, a post­grad­u­ate stu­dent from Lei­den Univer­sity ma­jor­ing in ad­vanced stud­ies in ional civil and com­mer­cial law told Metropoli­tan.

“Last se­mes­ter, a few Chi­nese stu­dents and my­self were thrown out be­cause of be­ing three min­utes late, ” she said. “My pro­fes­sor shouted at us to ‘go away.’”

On the con­trary, she also re­mem­bered that sev­eral days ago, soome tardy Euro­pean stu­dents were treated dif­fer­ently. A lo­cal Dutch stu­dent was 15 min­utes late and the pro­fes­sor said to her, “l will al­ways wel­come you to show up in class.” A stu­dent from Eu­rope who was also late for class was told not to worry about be­ing late.

The pro­fes­sor is not po­lite to­wards Chim nese stu­dents, from Cheng’s per­spec­tive. “To hear my pro­fes­sor say ‘im­prove your English’ is quite hurt­ful for me,” she said. She felt con­fused why the pro­fes­sor fo­cused more on ac­cent rather than aca­demic abil­ity.

Many Chi­nese stu­dents over­seas say they have en­coun­tered in­equal­ity at some point.

In 2017, West­ern Syd­ney Univer­sity made a na­tional sur­vey in Aus­tralia. They ex­am­ined the im­pacts of where Aus­tralians are born and what lan­guage they speak at home have on their ex­pe­ri­ences of racism. Among the 6,001 Aus­tralian par­tic­i­pants, 84 per­cent of those be­ing born in Asian re­gions have been dis­crim­i­nated against, which is twice as likely as other Aus­tralians.

While racism is a long-term and in­grained is­sue, stu­dents nowa­days say in­vis­i­ble and in­di­rect mis­con­cep­tions or ag­gres­sive be­hav­iors are more com­mon on cam­pus.

Some in­ter­view ees like Cheng told Metropoli­tan they were treated more strictly and

given lower scores by their pro­fes­sors. Some in­ter­vie­wees say they have of­ten faced mi­croag­gres­sive com­ments from strangers as well as their class­mates. While a lot of schools are pur­su­ing in­clu­sive­ness, Chi­nese stu­dents are still fight­ing for equal­ity on cam­pus.

Harm­ful words

An­other case Cheng shared is that one night she was hang­ing out with her friends on cam­pus when, a mem­ber of se­cu­rity staff asked them about their na­tion­al­ity and was as­ton­ished upon know­ing they are Chi­nese. “You are too pretty to be Chi­nese,” he said. The prej­u­dice from a Dutch who knows lit­tle about China of­fended Cheng.

Chen Jing, a 24-year-old stu­dent liv­ing in France who ma­jors in fine art, told Metropoli­tan, “one day, a 5-year-old kid shouted ‘ching chang chong’ to me when I passed by him on cam­pus.”

“Ching chong” and “ching chang chong” are pe­jo­ra­tive terms some­times em­ployed by speak­ers of English to mock or play on the Chi­nese lan­guage, peo­ple of Chi­nese ances­try, or other East Asians per­ceived to be Chi­nese. Chen felt of­fended es­pe­cially be­cause the words were said by a lit­tle boy.

Dis­crim­i­na­tion hap­pens not only among ran­dom for­eign­ers but also among school­mates and even close friends. And on many oc­ca­sions, be­ing called ran­dom words hurts the most, ac­cord­ing to Ek­ing, a 24-year-old fe­male in­ter­vie­wee who used to live in the United States for six years.

“My room­mate called me a ‘mi­nor­ity’ when we got into a fight,” Ek­ing said. She and her Amer­i­can room­mates wran­gled over the sched­ule of tak­ing out the trash while her room­mates called her a mi­nor­ity un­ex­pect­edly. She didn’t re­al­ize that “mi­nor­ity” is a word linked with dis­crim­i­na­tion un­til her friends ex­plained to her that the word im­plies that she is among those who are less ed­u­cated, with strange cus­toms and back­ward ideas.

“I didn’t ex­pect my room­mate to hurt me over such a small con­flict,” she said. Ek­ing was quite up­set with her room­mate’s be­hav­ior.

On April 2, 2017, The New York Times col­lected reader re­sponses and sum­ma­rized sev­eral racial words that make peo­ple cringe and “mi­nor­ity” is on the list. As an AfricanAmer­i­can, one reader named Bar­bara Smith said “[Mi­nor­ity’s] root is mi­nor which means unim­por­tant, in­signif­i­cant, in­con­se­quen­tial, and in­fe­rior.”

Con­fronting stereo­types

Ac­cord­ing to a Novem­ber 24 re­port of CNN, the or­ga­ni­za­tion Stu­dents for Fair Ad­mis­sions sued Har­vard Univer­sity, as­sert­ing that Har­vard in­ten­tion­ally dis­crim­i­nates against Asian-Amer­i­can ap­pli­cants. Although Asian-Amer­i­cans scored higher than other races, they are less­ened their chances of ad­mis­sion. Har­vard used a “per­sonal rat­ing” to re­ject Asian-Amer­i­cans for rea­sons re­lat­ing to a pos­i­tive per­son­al­ity, like­abil­ity and how per­son­able the per­son is.

How­ever, af­ter the trial, Har­vard de­nied all the claims of bias, re­ply­ing that “We do not ad­mit sim­ply GPAs and board scores. We ad­mit peo­ple.”

Chi­nese stu­dents are of­ten as­sumed to be quiet, study a lot, get high scores on tests and very pos­si­bly come from rich fam­i­lies. They are rarely seen as ath­letic or charm­ing. And stereo­typ­i­cal as­sump­tions that are a lot worse are also as­so­ci­ated with them.

“I have wit­nessed that Chi­nese stu­dents were sys­tem­at­i­cally dis­crim­i­nated against, and rec­og­nized as cheaters, liars who are rich that can ma­nip­u­late teach­ers,” said Lionel, an ac­tor from France who has teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Sin­ga­pore. When he re­called be­ing back in school, peo­ple tended to think Chi­nese stu­dents don’t take aca­demic hon­esty as the most se­ri­ous dis­ci­pline.

Some for­eign stu­dents told Metropoli­tan that their stereo­type of Chi­nese stu­dents was smashed af­ter re­ally get­ting along with the Chi­nese stu­dents.

“My room­mate is a Chi­nese girl. She is good look­ing and can bal­ance her life and study re­ally well. Not a nerd and so-called mi­nor­ity at all,” Ella Teekanya, a Thai PHD stu­dent ma­jor­ing in trans­port en­gi­neer­ing told Metropoli­tan her im­pres­sion of the Chi­nese stu­dent.

“All my Chi­nese friends are great; they are in­tel­li­gent and hon­est, some­times timid, but cute. Be­sides, none of my Chi­nese friends eat dogs,” Ni­hat Erko­may, a Turk­ish un­der­grad­u­ate at the Univer­sity of Sh­effield said. He added his per­spec­tive that the stereo­type of Chi­nese stu­dents may be due to the ar­ro­gance and in­com­pre­hen­sion of some Western­ers.

Af­ter the re­form and open­ing-up of China, both elites and the gen­eral pub­lic have ex­pe­ri­enced study­ing abroad. Ac­cord­ing to the sta­tis­tics re­leased by Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion of China in 2018, the num­ber of stu­dents who went over­seas for fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion reached an all-time high of 600,000 in 2017, with an 11.74 per­cent year-on-year in­crease. The aware­ness of dis­crim­i­na­tion in­creases grad­u­ally with the rock­et­ing tides of study­ing abroad. La­bels such as “Bor­ing straight A stu­dents” and “folks with strange habits who eat dogs” are less seen.

Both Cheng and Ek­ing con­sider speak­ing out and fight­ing back as the best ap­proach against any bias or dis­crim­i­na­tion, be it large or small.

“We wrote a let­ter to our law in­sti­tu­tion, re­port­ing the in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior of our pro­fes­sor. The dean of the law in­sti­tu­tion apol­o­gized to us and promised it would not hap­pen again,” Cheng said. She and other Chi­nese stu­dents felt like their right and dig­nity were re­stored.

“With other in­ter­na­tional stu­dents’ help, my room­mates apol­o­gized to me,” Ek­ing said. She has re­ceived pos­i­tive re­sults af­ter dis­crim­i­na­tion hap­pened to her as well. Page Ed­i­tor: huangyi­[email protected]­al­times.com.cn

Photo: VCG

While racism is a long-term and in­grained is­sue, stu­dents nowa­days say in­vis­i­ble and in­di­rect mis­con­cep­tions or ag­gres­sive be­hav­iors are more com­mon on cam­pus.

Photo: VCG

Many Chi­nese stu­dents over­seas say they have en­coun­tered dis­crim­i­na­tion at some point.

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