A controversial Maclean’s article, about the importance of race when choosing a university, employed stereotypical descriptions of Asian students, according to panellists at the first two-day McGill Equity and the Media Conference on March 25 and 26.
“Too Asian,” the November 2010 article originally published in Maclean’s Magazine and later renamed “The Enrollment Controversy,” discusses the role of race in selecting a university, and the way it characterizes university campuses.
“While the authors constantly speak about the Asians as a group, they never actually articulate who is Asian and who is not,” said Edward Lee, PhD candidate of social work at McGill University.
According to those in attendance at the Saturday conference, the authors of the contentious article and their interviewees depict Asian students as “strivers, high achievers and single-minded in their approach to university” in contrast to white students who they say choose a university based on their social life. “This is a form of positive stereotyping […] and I think that this is an important thing to acknowledge, but at the same time I would challenge us to look beyond the positive stereotyping of all Asians as ‘hard working, talented and ambitious,’” said Lee.
Janet Lumb, artistic director of Festival AccÃ¨s Asie, spoke for nationwide mobilization against the Maclean’s article. “Once we have 25 signatures we can take it to an MP, who then can bring it up into the House for the effort, a national effort, to take [away] Maclean’s annual funding of over one million dollars in Canada because of a number of different things that Maclean’s magazine has done, not only with regards to the ‘Too Asian?’ article,” she explained.
The Saturday conference, held at the Thompson House, was the initiative of Brendan Shanahan, a U3 honours history student at McGill, who wished to give university students and members of the Montreal community an opportunity to present their own research about equity and the media. “We as undergrads do really good work, you hand it in to a professor and that’s the end of it. On top of that I think having a conference is a good chance to talk about pressing issues in our society today,” he said.
The two other panels included discussions about feminist, civil and LGBT rights and their representation in the media. The conference, which about 50 people attended, only presented the work of McGill University students, but Shanahan hopes to make it an annual interactive event between universities.
“We kept it strictly to the McGill community because we had no idea how many submissions we’d get, but I could certainly potentially see it as something that could be interactive between universities,” he said.