3 Lessons I’ve Learned About Modern Racism from Idaho State University’s Bad Behavior Towards My Husband

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Some of life’s learning experiences really hurt.

For me, the most painful one I’ve ever had is witnessing the horrendous damage that Idaho State University and its clinical psychology PhD program inflicted upon my husband Jun Yu.

I also believe it has been the most important educational experience of my life.

While I wouldn’t wish what happened to Jun on anyone, it has offered me a unique perspective into what modern racism and discrimination really looks like.

Here are 3 lessons I’ve learned about modern racism from Idaho State University’s bad behavior towards my husband:

#1: Modern racism is NOT obvious and blatant

Nobody ever called my husband a “chink” or uttered other blatant racial slurs against him in the course of his time at Idaho State University. But that doesn’t mean there’s no racism at work. (See also my recent post Behind ISU’s Blatant Violations of Professional Standards Are Shadows of Discrimination Against Jun Yu)

America’s discrimination laws have been on the books since the 1960’s, putting all Americans on notice that they’ll be in deep trouble for using overtly racist language. So nowadays, people who want to do something motivated by racism (which might even be racism they’re not aware of, aka aversive racism) will hide their intentions. They’ll usually fabricate seemingly reasonable explanations, even when they might totally contradict the facts in the case.

For example, consider the following about my husband’s case, as reported in this story about Jun Yu v. Idaho State University by AsAm News:

The school’s official reasoning for terminating Yu’s doctorate was “unsatisfactory progress.” However, as Dr. Chavez-Korell noted–“The assigned grades and formal evaluations across semesters are inconsistent with unsatisfactory progress.”

#2: You can still be racist even if you work in a field that embraces diversity and advocates against racism and discrimination

If there was ever a field that cared about diversity, it’s professional psychology.

The American Psychological Association’s Ethics Code has three standards regarding diversity and discrimination – 3.01 Unfair Discrimination, 3.02 Sexual Harassment, and 3.03 Other Harassment (which says psychologists should not harass or demean others based on factors including “age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language or socioeconomic status.”).

APA Accreditation – the body that accredits all professional psychology programs, including the ISU program — has an entire domain devoted to diversity (Domain D), summarized as, “The program recognizes the importance of cultural and individual differences and diversity in the training of psychologists.”

While in ISU’s clinical psychology PhD program, my husband spent an entire semester studying diversity, and the class covered topics on racism, discrimination and prejudice. One of his textbooks was Overcoming Our Racism by Derald Wing Sue, which actually begins with the words, “Are you a racist?… Are you willing to look at yourself, to examine your assumptions, your attitudes, your conscious and unconscious behavior, the privileges you have enjoyed as a White person, and the way you have treated people of color, even with the best of intentions?”

Yet the program behaved in racist ways towards my husband, Jun Yu.

The aversive racism expert for Jun’s case wrote a report detailing more than 22 specific examples of aversive racism by the ISU faculty towards Jun, concluding:

… it is hard to imagine a situation that more strongly demonstrates all of the hallmarks that are typically present when aversive racism is occurring, which strongly suggests that the behavior of the ISU Psychology department was influenced by Mr. Yu’s race and international status. [emphasis added]

It just goes to show that working in a field that purportedly promotes diversity is not a “get-out-of-being-a-racist-free-card” by any means.

#3: Modern racism can be devastating, destroying your entire life and even your dreams

Just because modern racism is subtle doesn’t mean it can’t ruin your life. As we have written before:

It took Jun 5 years of hard work to earn the degree. But it only took the university an arbitrary decision to deny it. ISU has robbed Jun of his past achievements. They have stolen his dream of becoming a clinical psychologist. They have ruined his career and future.

Not surprisingly, the cultural competency expert wrote for Jun’s case, “It is my opinion that the dismissal of Mr. Yu from ISU’s Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Program was excessive…, unjustified, and objectively unreasonable.”

There’s a Chinese saying: “When things go to an extreme, they will reverse course” (wùjíbìfǎn, 物极必反). I think it holds true for Jun’s case too.

Despite all of the devastation in our lives, we believe in #JusticeForJun. We believe that, as long as we don’t give up, justice will prevail.


My husband Jun Yu is fighting against injustice in higher education. ISU ruined his 5 yrs of education & future, and denied him the PhD he rightfully earned. Learn more and support his cause at Generosity.com. #JusticeForJun

Why Did I Assume I Would Stay Single in China?

Earlier this month, Rosalie (the blogger behind Rosie in BJ) publicly explored some of her own prejudices in a post titled, “Why Did I Assume I’d Never Find a Man to Date in China?

As I was reading her article, I suddenly realized that I too had a pre-China backstory worth sharing – one of relationships that never came to be, and what ifs that point to my own prejudices. So here goes:

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In coming to China, the last thing I expected was to end up dating a local guy, let alone marrying one (as I ended up doing with John, pictured here with me). Why?

“You don’t have to worry about the students falling in love with you.”

Before I embarked on my first trip to China, where I would teach English at a college, I met up with one of the former teachers several times for dinner or drinks. And when the subject of student crushes came up – something he had been forced to navigate very delicately – he negated the possibility of anything similar happening to me.

Of course I didn’t question his words. Hadn’t I already envisioned my year-long assignment much like a vow of chastity? I spoke to friends of my interest in studying Tai Chi over there and visiting some local temples, as if I were about to spend my months as a nun instead of an English teacher. It was an opportunity to travel to a new country, a way to postpone my post-graduate dilemma regarding career decisions, and nothing more than that.

Or so I thought.

Then I moved to Zhengzhou, China – and found myself with a crush on one of the first guys I met there, a former student from the program I would teach for. Over a month later, he introduced me to his friend, a guy who was also a former student – and would become so much more to me in the weeks that followed:

Yao came into my life, in all of his sleek, sexy and sullen James Dean perfection, dressed in a black leather jacket as dark as his mysterious melancholy. When my heart raced after our first dinner together, I thought it was just another adolescent crush. Embarrassed, I wanted to just box my feelings away like all of the Barbie Dolls and little girl hairclips of my past.

Then he took me to that teahouse one Sunday afternoon. Over two Taiwanese bubble teas, the truth bubbled through to the surface of my own heart — I loved him with an uncontrollable depth that plunged far beyond the bottom of my tea cup. And, I began to realize, so did he, because he overflowed with confessionals that he had never before poured over with anyone else.

Not long after, our our passions percolated over into romance — a real boyfriend/girlfriend love that translated into steamy weekends at his apartment, hand-in-hand walks around the gardens of Zhengzhou University, and the occasional afternoon out at the Taiwanese teahouse, his favorite in the city. Bubble tea never tasted so sweet.

In his arms, it was so easy for me to forget that I had once secretly declared this year a lonely one without a single chance for dating. And it was also very easy for me to turn a disdainful eye to my female coworkers at the school, all Americans who had no interest in the local men.

I couldn’t help but wonder, why did I assume that I would be single in China? Why did I think I would never date Chinese men? Was it merely that I grew up in an incredibly white middle-class suburb (I could count on one hand the Asian men I knew from kindergarten to high school graduation)? Was it the overwhelming absence of positive images of Asian men in the whitewashed world of American popular culture?

I think back to my college years, a time when I met many foreign Asian men – including Japanese and Cambodian. I called many of them close friends, yet why did I never let them get any closer to me? Why did I always immediately relegate them to the “friend zone” and nothing more? Why did my white girlfriends and I only giggle over white celebrity heartthrobs in high school, like Tom Cruise?

It’s just not right.

All I know is this — in China, I found the sexiest and most amazing men that I had ever known. I ended up marrying one and I’m still crazy in love with him. (Thank you, John!) It took crossing an entire ocean and time zones to realize that my assumptions about dating in China were a lie.

Guest Post: Why Did I Assume I’d Never Find a Man to Date in China?

Why did I assume I’d never find a man to date in China? It’s a question that haunted white American Rosalie Zhao (who blogs at Rosie in BJ), surprised to find the love of her life in the Middle Kingdom (she shared her unforgettable love story here in the post “Enter Zhao Ming…China’s Answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger”). She writes, “With rising tensions and deepening talks surrounding issues of race in the US, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my own prejudices.”

Do you have a story worth sharing on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page today to learn how to become a guest poster on this blog.

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(Photo by Steve Webel via Flickr.com)
(Photo by Steve Webel via Flickr.com)

It’s been a couple years since my first guest post on Speaking of China. I wrote of how, against my initial expectations, I found love with a local man in China. Since that post, there’s been a rise of AMWF relationships in the media as well as a growing number of Asian men (and the western women who love them) speaking up and speaking out. With rising tensions and deepening talks surrounding issues of race in the US, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my own prejudices. I’ve also given some thought as to why I assumed I’d never find a man to date in China, an assumption that many western women living in Asia seem to make. Then, the reason finally came to me—a man that was such a small part of my past but who I’ve come to realize had a seemingly profound impact on how I viewed Asian men and perhaps even how I saw myself.

It was freshman year of college and I was in a dating slump. The good news was that I got along fabulously with the other girls I lived with in my dormitory suite. There were five of us in total; I was the only one without a boyfriend. The two girls in the room next door, Laura and Erin, each were dating guys who attended a university on the other side of our state, which meant they were away most weekends visiting their beaus. I don’t know whose idea it was, theirs or mine, but somehow we came up with the idea of me having a blind date with one of their boyfriends’ friends. They quickly ran through their mental rolladexes (this was, of course, pre-Facebook). Who among these friends would be a good match? Laura looked up suddenly. “We should set you up with Johnny!” she exclaimed. “Yeah, he’s really cute!” Erin assured me. They shuffled through all the junk in their dorm room, eventually scrounging up a photo. Laura showed me his picture.

For a second, I was taken aback. I assumed he would be white, but he was in fact East Asian. I quickly admonished myself—what did it matter? He looked fairly cute from the photo and they eagerly sang his other praises: he was kind, smart, and 21 (old enough to buy us beer!). I decided to throw caution to the wind and join them on their next road trip across state, in hopes Johnny might be the man of my dreams. Or maybe someone fun to make-out with for the weekend. Whatever. When you’re 19 and in college, it hardly matters.

As fate would have it, Johnny was neither my future husband or make-out partner. The second I laid eyes on him I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I’m short. This guy? He was barely taller than me. He also weighed about 30 pounds less than me. The chemistry wasn’t there. I wanted a man who eclipsed me in size and strength, a man who would wrap me up into his arms and protect me from all danger. If Johnny was a little bigger and I a little smaller, maybe something could be there, I thought. Johnny, however, didn’t share my sentiments. He seemed very much into the idea of us becoming an item. He was smart enough to read my signals and not push me too hard, but he subtly pursued me that weekend and later, online.

I felt bad initially and even worse as time wore on. Johnny and I became closer friends while talking on MSN messenger and it became clear to me that he was suffering from a far worse dating slump than I was. He had been rejected over and over, to the point where he felt his efforts were futile. He was never going to find a girlfriend. I wanted to assure him that the right girl was out there, but I didn’t know how to do that without returning to an awkward conversation in which he asked why I didn’t like him. Eventually, our chats online became less frequent and I guiltily sighed with relief.

After that, I fell for my own perception bias. I viewed all Asian men as being smaller than me and therefore undatable. I assumed I could never again be attracted to them because I’d feel like an ogre in their presence. But then I came to China and discovered that Asian men come in all sizes and shapes. I also realized something else—a man’s true strength isn’t determined by his height in inches or weight in pounds; in the years since coming to China, I have found men attractive who had physiques similar to that of Johnny’s. And I have also realized that my own self-worth cannot be calculated by how small my jean size is. I don’t have to be thin for a man to find me beautiful.

I see now that I never gave Johnny a fair chance. Perhaps a romance could have blossomed and chemistry forged if I had had an open mind. Was I racist? Sizist? Self-loathing? I don’t know. But I don’t want to judge my 19-year-old self too harshly. I’m just glad that in time I was able to open myself up to the possibilities of dating cross-culturally and the idea of dating in China. I’m not sure where in the world I’d be today if I hadn’t.

Rosalie Zhao resides with her family in Hebei, China, where she writes a blog called Rosie in BJ.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.