‘Too Asian’?: UBC’s School of Journalism Takes on MacLean’s

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been following the heated debate sparked by Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Köhler’s article ‘Too Asian’? published in Maclean’s on Nov. 10, 2010. To read the unsanitized version, you can find it here on tooasian.ca.

The authors’ ham-fisted approach was clearly intended to trigger sales/clicks by sensationalizing what could have been a legitimate discussion on diversity and admissions at Canadian universities. Instead, the article reached back to tap old prejudices and fears against Asians.

The Asian stereotypes at work in the article hit a tender spot. A week or so earlier, I watched the “Chinese professor” ad spot sponsored by the Citizens Against Government Waste during the U.S. mid-term elections which pandered to the same ugly, xenophobia across the border.

Like many who read the article, I was forced to ask myself how many others harboured the same feelings and resentments as the unnamed party girls from the article.

Judging from personal experience, more than I was ready to acknowledge. After all, I had recently attended a local event where someone living on campus informed me that UBC was “too Chinese.” While I brushed off that incident as an anomaly, the article was harder to ignore.

But it didn’t take long before MacLean’s attracted detractors and defenders. Here’s just a small sample of what’s out there:

Last Thursday, UBC’s School of Journalism hosted a free forum to discuss the article, featuring:

  • Dr. Kerry Jang, Professor, UBC Psychiatry and Vancouver City Councillor
  • Dr. Henry Yu, Associate Professor, Dept. of History, UBC and Principal pro tem, St. John’s College, UBC)
  • Dr. Candis Callison, Assistant Professor, UBC School of Journalism
  • Elysa Hogg, Undergraduate Student, Faculty of Arts
  • William Tao, Undergraduate Student, Faculty of Arts

Despite a snowy day in Vancouver, the room was packed. I snagged a seat at the front by pure chance. I can’t adequately summarize every panelist’s comments here due to space so I’ll touch on key points:

  • The article addresses a subject that we as Canadians should be open to discuss: race, diversity and university admissions.
  • How the authors choose to frame the discussion, however, was sensational and false.
  • MacLean’s does not represent “The Media.”
  • MacLean’s newsroom lacks diversity and, therefore, a balanced perspective.  
  • We should be able to debate the issue but also question the data and how it’s collected.

The 1.5-hour forum was terrific—but lacked enough time for the audience to participate. Only three students were able to pose questions and two expressed surprise at the panelists’ use of humour. I think the panelists’ measured, thoughtful responses failed to jive with students who were outraged by the article and seeking a space to express themselves.

Surely, creating that space will be on Alden Habacon’s to-do list when CBC’s former Manager of Diversity Initiatives for the English TV network joins UBC on Dec. 1 as the new Director of Intercultural Understanding Strategy Development.

To check out the audio, visit tooasian.ca, a website set up by “Asian Canadians who are tired of negative stereotypes published by the media.” Also, Samantha Jung has posted her live blog of the forum on her website, Inward / Onward.

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