Community of Scholars
SPARTANBURG, S.C. - While perusing the cultural studies section at the book store last February, Wofford College rising senior and sociology major Frances Choe noticed something was amiss.
“It was Black History Month, so there was a lot of material dealing with African American history,” Choe says. “In fact, there was a whole section dedicated to African American studies. Then there was an entire section for women’s studies. But then they combined all the other minorities into one section. There was nothing on Arab Americans that I could find, very little on Hispanic or Latino Americans, and also very little on Asian Americans. This was something that I learned about in class.”
As one of 19 student research fellows in the Wofford Community of Scholars program this summer, Choe, an Asian American student from Rock Hill, S.C., knew right away what she wanted to do for her project.
“I can relate to the Asian American experience,” she says. “It was an easy choice to go that way.”
Her project is titled “Deconstructing Misconceptions of Asian American Women,” and she is dividing it into two main parts.
“The first part is a comprehensive look at where stereotypes come from, especially for Asian American women,” Choe says. “What is the function of these stereotypes? What is the background of the role of Asian American women in society?
“The second part is a look at how the individual can combat these issues on an everyday level,” she adds. “What are some strategies to use?”
Choe gives an example.
“Auto-ethnic representation,” she says. “In a lot of movies and in the media, there is a majority that is representing minority members. You have Caucasian men directing and producing movies like ‘Memoirs of a Geisha,’ a fantasy about Asian American women. I have sympathy for the actors, because if you want to survive you have to take those roles, but at the same time these roles perpetuate stereotypes. How do you get out of that loop?
“One way to do it, even in literature, is to get more Asian Americans representing Asian Americans,” she adds. “The minority must represent itself if it wants truer representations put out there besides the stereotypes.”
What are the stereotypes?
“There’s always the myth of the perpetual foreigner,” she says. “It’s kind of like a default stereotype. If you don’t go out of your way to disprove it, people immediately tend to assume that you don’t speak English very well or that you have just immigrated. They assume you were born in China or Japan or Korea. There is the model minority stereotype … that we’re all good in math. That we’re going to go down the engineering path or be a doctor. For girls, there is the sexual stereotype. The geisha girl stereotype. The coy sexuality. That was really annoying in high school.”
For her research, Choe is doing a lot of reading.
“It’s been solely a literary review so far,” she says. “I’m reading books written mainly by Asian American women and people who are in the field of cultural studies. I’m looking at a little bit of media as backup. There’s one reference book which is great – ‘Yellow,’ by Frank Woo – which serves as a really good sounding board.”
So do some of her Community of Scholars colleagues.
“One of my friends who is associated with us suggested that I look at the Korean Air commercials, where they have Asian women waiting hand-and-foot on Western businessmen,” Choe says. “There is some truth there because there are a lot of Western businessmen who do fly to Korea and they do get that treatment, but subconsciously I think there is something else going on there.
”My project strives to provide an in-depth understanding of these types, origins, social functions, and methods of perpetuation/transmission of racial and gendered stereotypes and determine how an individual like myself can confront and combat them.”