Research News

The Atlantic reports on burdens of being a ‘model minority,’ cites work of UW's Lee

June 08, 2016

The Atlantic on June 6 published a short article headlined, “The Professional Burdens of Being a ‘Model Minority.’ ”

The report by Adia Harvey Wingfield examines how “stereotypes about Asian Americans are often held up as proof that racial labels can be flattering, but they subtly produce a number of problems in schools and offices.”

And among the resources The Atlantic uses in its efforts to put this topic in perspective is research conducted by UW-Madison’s Stacey Lee, a professor with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Policy Studies.

Stacey Lee
The Atlantic article begins: “There are a number of ways in which Asian Americans are thriving economically. They are overrepresented among the ranks of professional-managerial workers in the U.S., and have higher average incomes than whites. On average, they are also more educated than Americans of other racial groups, including whites. These facts lead many to conclude that Asian Americans represent a “model minority” — a group whose hard work, initiative, personal responsibility, and success offer proof that American meritocracy works as intended.”

The report continues: “This stereotype is often held up as proof that some racial stereotypes can be favorable, even flattering. But the model-minority image brings with it a number of problems. For instance, research done by Stacey Lee, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education, shows how this image can deter Asian American high-school students from seeking help when they’re struggling in school, socially isolating them and, ironically, causing them to fare worse academically.”

The research that The Atlantic article links to is the second edition of Lee’s book, “Unraveling the ‘Model Minority’ Stereotype: Listening to Asian American Youth.” This edition, which was published in 2009, extends Lee’s groundbreaking research on the educational experiences and achievement of Asian American youth. A preview of the book explains how Lee “provides a comprehensive update of social science research to reveal the ways in which the larger structures of race and class play out in the lives of Asian American high school students, especially regarding presumptions that the educational experiences of Koreans, Chinese, and Hmong youth are all largely the same.”