COLUMN: MU Diversity Award excludes Asian American students

: MU’s Diversity Award is confirmation for what it feels like to be looked at and treated differently on this predominantly white campus. And yet, the Asian American community receives almost no recognition for the diversity we bring.

Namratha Prasad is a freshman journalism major at MU. She is a guest columnist for The Maneater.

The Asian American community has faced a spike in hate crimes relating to COVID-19. This is not surprising, given former President Donald Trump used racist language to describe the virus, continually blamed the Chinese government and hired people who spewed conspiracies of the virus with racist undertones to help in his efforts to address the virus. Unfortunately, the ramifications of this blatant racism have reared their ugly heads.

Eight Asian Americans were shot and killed at a spa in Atlanta on March 16. Some media outlets continue to overlook this shooting as a hate crime. The Asian American community has had enough. We are tired of being ignored.

This is not only a national problem. It is local, and it is here at MU.

The Diversity Award at MU does not include Asian Americans on their list of minorities. That is a huge issue that has not been talked about nearly enough when this university boasts its “diverse population”.

The Diversity Award is granted to students who are members of “a racial or ethnic minority group that is underrepresented in relation to the University's goal to achieve educational benefits of a diverse student body,” according to the MU Financial Aid office.

The scholarship is not a small amount of cash, either. Out of state students can receive up to $15,000 in financial aid through this award.

When asked to comment on why Asians are not considered for this scholarship, Christian Basi director of UM system media relations said that the scholarship aims to retain a “critical mass” of minority students.

The scholarship is intended to “encourage them to participate in the classroom and in campus life without feeling isolated in the campus environment.”

He made no mention to the Asian community.

“Accordingly, this scholarship has been provided to students from minority groups that are in greatest need in relation to those goals,” Basi said.

Again, no mention of the Asian community was made in his response.

Basi said there are approximately 818 Asian American students on MU’s campus, and 858 international students from Asia.

“We’re not denying that the group is a minority – it’s about the critical mass,” Basi said. “Observations and data that we have collected over time indicate that we are further away from a critical mass with our Black and Hispanic students compared to our Asian students. As such, we have to make decisions to prioritize our resources.”

Approximately 1600 students are not that many students in the context of a public university with 30,000 students in total. That is approximately 2.7% of MU’s population. That, by definition, is an underrepresented group on this campus. That is what the Diversity Award is for.

Basi said that this “critical mass” he talks about is an educational concept, and not a numerical goal.

Diversity is not an educational concept.

The Asian American community is not an “educational concept.” They are people. Not a curriculum.

However, another problem lies in the fact that MU does not consider 2% of the student body as an “underrepresented” minority group.

The fact that Asian American students are not considered for the award is all in the fine print. Nowhere on MU’s financial aid website does it say that Asians are not considered for the scholarship. If MU has a legitimate cause to not list Asian Americans as a minority, why hide it?

“It’s also important to note that in 2012, the federal Office of Civil Rights completed a thorough review of our scholarships, specifically related to minority scholarships, and determined that they complied with the law,” Basi said.

Basi explained that adding the Asian American community to the list of minority groups that are considered for the scholarship would cause an imbalance in who gets the scholarship as of right now.

Basi said that as it stands, the university is utilizing a finite amount of scholarship money in a way that effectively aligns with their goal “to have a diverse student body, where students from any particular group do not feel marginalized and are able to interact with all students from different backgrounds providing our students with the experiences that can lead to successful careers in today’s global economy.”

This is a loophole MU has created to save itself money. While it is understandable there is a set amount of scholarship money MU is allowed to give its students, just because there is a “critical mass” of Asian students, that does not change the fact that the Asian community on campus is underrepresented in the context of a large public university.

The Asian American community is once again being overlooked. This scholarship is performative diversity. The university boasts about its diverse campus, however, the Asian American community is considered diverse only when it is convenient for the university.

Regardless of “critical mass,” it does not change the fact that we still feel all the effects of being underrepresented. And this award is an instance of that underrepresentation.

“We are only recognized when the school tries to promote itself, but never in any other regard. Not a lot of money goes into our organizations and we aren’t given much to work with in terms of spaces we are provided,” Mizzou Asian American Association member Dzuy Nguyen said.

As a part of the South Asian community, I feel overlooked. I see this underrepresentation manifest itself frequently. I am usually the only one who looks like me in my classes. I see the stares as I walk through Memorial Union and the MU Student Center. I feel underrepresented when this school makes no effort to be inclusive or to support the Asian-led clubs they make sure to advertise to incoming students.

MU can start to foster a community of inclusivity by recognizing Asian Americans as the minority group they are on this campus. Diversity is not simply something you can add to your list of attributes when you show no support to the Asian American community, MU.

_With the recent spike in hate crimes against the Asian Americans, it is more important now than ever to show support to the community. Stop AAPI Hate is a national organization that tracks and responds to Asian American and Pacific Islander related hate crimes. To donate and learn more, visit stopaapihate.org.

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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