Jing Yu’s study on Chinese International Students’ Experiences of Racism in Times of Crisis found that Asian students are missing in racial discourse in the US, and that Covid-19, geopolitical tensions with China and anti-Asian racism has put them in a vulnerable situation.
Participants in the survey reported issues from explicit racism, racial ignorance and double alienation, where they face discrimination due to their race as well as their nationality.
“Although the US now is a focused on equity, diversity and inclusion, most of the time EDI does not include international student population,” Yu said in a recent webinar.
In her research, Yu sought to expand the scope and include international students in discussions on these issues, she explained.
Through interviews with 21 Chinese international undergraduates in the US, Yu also identified that prior to coming to the US, Chinese students held contrasting views on race and racism, than when compared with when leaving the country.
Experiences Chinese students lived in the US “dramatically shifted their conceptualisation of race from a nationality-based identity to the phenotype-based imposed category of ‘Asian’”, the research said.
The feeling among students that they are revenue generator for institutions resulted in students feeling both welcome and unwelcome, Yu suggested during the session.
She described an interview with one student from Shanghai who said awareness of being an economic contribution is a “pathetic truth”.
“US institutions like us because of money, which makes me really sad”
“[US institutions] like us because of money which makes me really sad. You will find it’s not a thing that you will be proud of,” the student had told her.
“International students are welcome at US universities based not solely on their academic merit, but also on their ability to pay,” she said the student had suggested.
Feelings of invalidation and marginalisation increase self-criticism among students, leading to fear, anger, sadness and the mental health concerns, Yu indicated.
“Chronic exposure to racial ignorance causes racial battle fatigue and undermines students psychological wellbeing,” she said.
In Canada, University of Ottawa researcher Karine Coen-Sanchez has also called for EDI policies to be more inclusive for international students.
Yu also spoke of Asian Americans and Chinese students.
“Asian international students share overlapping stereotypes with Asian Americans such as the ‘model minority’ [concept]. At the same time, [the students interviewed] confirmed the new stereotypes, such as academic dishonesty and being cash cows,” she said.
“International students may face discrimination not only because of their race, but also from their nationality. Another example is international students as economically privileged migrants are simultaneously as racialised other and economic elites. These inconsistent social statuses will strongly influence their identity construction and how they perceive race, racism and the racial justice movements.”
While stop Asian hate movements across the US helped to raise awareness of racism, slogans had “driven a wedge between the Asian Americans and the non Americans Asians”, the researcher continued.
“The slogan such as Asian-Americans are Americans implies that ‘I was born in this country, so I shouldn’t be treated as a foreigner on outsider’. However, the deracialized form Western nationalism is counterproductive because, after all, the majority of anti-Asian racist incidents are based on superficial phenotypic characteristics rather than the birthplace or nationality.
“International students may face discrimination not only because of their race, but also from their nationality”
“Such framing also excludes the Asian international students, allies of the movement, who are not born here, who do not hold a US passport, but are victimised by the same type of anti-Asian racism and the violence.”
Yu also said that statements in favour of international students following, for example, the Trump administration executive order requiring students to attend in-person classes during the height of Covid-19, or face deportation, were problematic.
“Many international higher education organisations such as American Council on Education immediately issued a public statement pushing back against this discriminatory policy,” she said.
“However, the statement only emphasised international students economic contribution, which is a type of nationalistic and a protectionist argument to sustain the global white supremacy,” she said.
“Under the socio-political context of US/China geopolitical tensions, Covid-19, anti-Asian Racism, Chinese international students have been particularly vulnerable,” Yu concluding, particularly impacting their mental health.
“US institutions should take actions to protect this largest international student group,” she said.