Numbers are interesting. They can measure, time, analyze and rank someone. But to what extent can numbers really tell about a person?
According to statistics from the Census Bureau and data from higher education, Asian Americans rank highest among the five major racial/ethnic groups in the United States in college degree attainment and rates of having an advanced degree (professional or Ph.D).
Being the group with the highest proportion of college graduates of any race group in the country, about 49 percent of Asian Americans, age 25 and older have a bachelors degree or higher level of education. Ivy league schools have been dominated by Asian Americans with a high proportion earning degrees in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM degrees, compared to the small number earning degrees in the humanities and social sciences.
But the higher up something is put on a pedestal, the harder it can fall.
With pressure from their parents, the Asian American community and non-Asian community, Asian American youth have become pressured to live up to a high expectation to get into ivy leagues, to pursue STEM degrees, and to excel in higher education, their drive to work hard for success can become obsessive, counterproductive and sometimes even tragic.
The pressure can ultimately end in many negative psychological outcomes including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and behavior problems such as aggression and social withdrawal according to Yafen Lo in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing.
On the flip side of the educational rankings, the National Collaborative for Asian American Women’s Mental Health (NAWHO) reports that Asian American college students report higher levels of depressive symptoms than Caucasian students. Asian American women aged 15-24 have the highest suicide mortality rates across all racial/ethnic groups as well has the highest rates of depressive symptoms of all racial/ethnic and gender groups.
But with the outstanding educational statistics it’s no wonder that Asian Americans are stereotyped as quiet, obedient, brilliant, hard working and most importantly, successful. In other words, they are seen as the model minority, a bright and shining example of what other minority groups should follow.
So with stereotypes like that, what does that make me, a 19- year-old Asian American attending Bellevue College with a passion for writing and journalism and a resentment towards science and just about anything that has to do with numbers?
Does it make me unsuccessful?
Does it make me un-Asian American?
While growing up, like most supportive parents, mine had always encouraged me to go toward the road of success. And like most Asian American parents, this meant going into the sciences, specifically the medical field to become a doctor. They made me volunteer at the UW Medical Center for a couple of summers and made sure I was taking all the science and math classes I could in high school.
To be honest, I have considered going into the medical field a little bit. While volunteering, I found that helping to make a positive difference in the life of others was hugely satisfying and rewarding. In addition, I would make tons of money, and how much more successful can you get than that?
But I realized that to become a doctor, I would have to go through medical school and do horrible things like advanced calculus, physiological research, and other things that sound really, really hard.
For a long time, I’ve felt disappointed with myself and a let down to my parents.
I’ve wondered if I could still even be allowed to call myself Asian American, or would someone like me taint the perfect image of a successful, smart, Asian American student.
Somewhere down the road, I discovered journalism and my ambitions for it skyrocketed immediately. I wrote for Bellevue College’s student newspaper, the Jibsheet for a year and I have been interning for the International Examiner for a couple of months. After being able to write for these publications and reaching the community and people in a way that I enjoyed, I have learned that success comes in many different forms other than in a degree or a report card.
I have learned that you can’t measure, time, analyze or rank the brilliance, hard work, and most importantly, success of a person.