Asian American Representation in STEM & Media: Why It Matters

By Rowan Obach, C2ST Intern, Loyola University

Previously, C2ST published an article explaining unconscious bias. This bias can manifest itself in different ways, including in the representation of minorities in media and scientific research. The recent successes of Shang-Chi: Legend of the Ten Rings and Squid Game have shown the commercial and critical viability of Asian or Asian-American led productions, but there is an alternate side to that success. While these incredible shows have brought joy and success to many Asian Americans, only a year ago many Asian Americans were the targets of harassment due to the perceived, albeit unfounded, connections between Asian-Americans and the origin/transmission of the COVID-19.

Still: Squid Game

The lack of Asian representation is not only apparent in mainstream media. Research published earlier this year by Science News revealed that Asian Americans were not being represented as much as other minorities in scientific publications, either. The article found that in medical research “0.17 percent of the National Institutes of Health’s roughly $451 billion research funding between 1992 and 2018 went to clinical studies that included a focus on Asian Americans, researchers reported in 2019 in JAMA Network Open.” This directly contrasts the speed at which the Asian American population is growing; representing 7% of the U.S. population in 2021 and is the fastest growing demographic group in the country. 

Additionally, compared to other minorities, Asian Americans are the most likely to suffer from mental illnesses without seeking treatment. This was revealed in the same Science News article: “In the January 2020 Psychiatric Services researchers reported that, among a U.S. sample of 10,494 white people and 451 Asian Americans diagnosed with major depressive disorder, 70 percent of the white people received mental health treatment compared with just 35.3 percent of the Asian Americans.”

Asian Americans also represent a large quantity of different ethnic backgrounds, yet when researchers do include them as a category within social or scientific research, they are often lumped together into a single group. This is problematic because when lumped together, important trends may overshadow the actual conditions on the ground. Take poverty rate as an example. When surveyed amongst the entire Asian American population, the poverty rate is approximately 10%, yet when Burmese/Mongolian populations are isolated the poverty rate is approximately 25%.

To sum up, it’s great that Asian representation is getting more “hype” in the media nowadays, but it’s important to advocate for their representation in other fields as well. The model minority myth harms Asian Americans by assuming that they are well established enough already. But in reality, the lack of representation is harmful from a public health and social standpoint. By establishing greater representation in medical and mental health fields, more lives can be saved and individuals treated more efficiently. Asian representation is needed across the board, not just in media or medical research, but also in other political, cultural, social and economic sectors of the United States. 

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