San Dieguito Union High School District Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward has apologized for remarks that stereotyped Asian students as high-achievers from high-income families.
The official’s comments, seen as perpetuating the model minority myth, were reportedly made during a board training session on Monday on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Citing data that showed Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese students getting fewer D and F grades than other ethnic or racial groups, Michael Allman, a board trustee, asked James-Ward, “Do we know why Asian students do so well in school?”
In response, the superintendent said it’s because those students are from rich families coming from China.
“We have an influx of Asians from China, and the people who are able to make that journey are wealthy,” James-Ward said. “You cannot come to America and buy a house for $2 million unless you have money.”
She then cited her own community as an example.
“In my community, in Carmel Valley… we had a large influx of Chinese families moving in, sight unseen, into our homes, into the community, and that requires money.”
James-Ward added that entire families — including grandparents — immigrate to the U.S., allowing for a strong support system for students at home. On the other hand, some Latinx families simply “don’t have that type of money,” and parents work jobs that leave them with no time to help their children.
The official’s remarks quickly drew criticism from the community. The Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, whose leaders are Chinese American, said in a statement that her comments were “deeply offensive, grossly inaccurate and intentionally divisive, which ill-fits her leadership role in a major school district,” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
A video of James-Ward’s remarks was also posted on YouTube and has been viewed more than 4,000 times. YouTube commenters responded by pointing out the diversity of Asian communities, as well as the value of meritocracy.
“Absolutely shameful and ignorant comments. My parents are the perfect example of how hard work and discipline can lead to success in America. To study hard and achieve academically is the least I can do to respect their efforts. This was true back when I was in high school and college and remains true today,” a YouTube user commented.
Others took the opportunity to highlight their own hard work.
“Unbelievable pre-judgement and stereotype. I came to the United States 24 years ago, with only 200$ in my pocket. I lived in a basement, I worked in buffet restaurants and I walked more than 1.5 hours one way to the campus even during the coldest winter storm in Pennsylvania,” one user wrote. “Even under all the stress, I still managed to get two masters degrees within 2.5 years from a top 30 university, straight A. Don’t be arrogant saying ‘wealth’ is the only reason Asians do good at school.”
“I’m an immigrant from China. I came here with $720 dollars in my pocket. In my first five years in school, I worked almost all weekends and holidays,” another commented. “Now both my wife and I have busy work. But we spend at least one hour per night with our kids when they are young. Our TV is not allowed to turn on on weekdays. We teach our kids the values of hard work. We told our kids if they fail at school work, they are the ones to be blamed, not other people or other ethnic groups. This superintendent doesn’t want less advanced students to work hard so she can stay in power.”
James-Ward reportedly responded to the backlash in an interview by saying her comments were taken out of context to cause a “firestorm.” The superintendent reportedly also faced a recent dispute relating to redistricting.
“I should’ve said it differently, right, because the issue is very complex. I should’ve just left it at ‘complex,’” she said.
Following the interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, James-Ward called the reporter back to apologize for her comments, stating,
“If I harmed any member of my community, I am deeply sorry, and that would never be my intent.”