The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Indian humour hurts US campus

Washington, Jan. 25: Indian students, who have been the toast of Ivy League campuses for some years, are this week being thrust into the limelight for the wrong reasons.

A national controversy is raging across the US over an article in The Daily Princetonian, Princeton University’s student newspaper, parodying broken English by a stereotypical Chinese student.

Indian students are at the centre of the controversy because the editor-in-chief of the students’ newspaper is Chanakya Sethi, an ethnic Indian.

So is its next editor-in-chief, Kavita Saini, who will take over from Sethi next month.

Princeton’s faculty members, college administrators and a large number of students themselves, have distanced themselves from the article, but the controversy is threatening to develop into a dissection of alleged bias against Asian-Americans in Ivy League colleges in the US.

As for the supposed target of the article, Jian Li, an 18-year-old who was refused admission at Princeton last year, he has already filed a civil rights complaint of discrimination with the US Department of Education. He is now a student at Yale.

The controversial piece in The Daily Princetonian under the fictional byline of Lian Ji read: “Hi Princeton! Remember me' I so good at math and science. Perfect 2400 SAT score. Ring bells' Just in cases, let me refresh your memories. I the super smart Asian. Princeton the super dumb college, not accept me.… What is wrong with you no color people' Yellow people make the world go round. We cook greasy food, wash your clothes and let you copy our homework.”

As it happens, Jian had “a perfect 2400 on the SATs, top grades at his high school in Livingston, New Jersey, numerous Advanced Placement courses and community service in Costa Rica, and high rankings in New Jersey’s math and physics leagues”, according to The New York Times, which has weighed in on the controversy.

Jian told the paper in an interview that his efforts to draw attention to “discrimination” against Asians in Ivy League universities were paying off. Jian is getting invitations from campuses across the US to speak on the issue and students from Brown University, another member of the elitist Ivy League, have approached him to start a movement against such discrimination.

The number of Asian American students in highly rated American universities is vastly more than the 5 per cent of Asians among the total population in the US, which raises questions about the existence of any discrimination in admissions.

Forty-six per cent of students at the University of California at Berkeley are Asians while at Stanford this figure is 24 per cent. Eighteen per cent of Harvard students are of Asian descent. The Times reported that “at Princeton, they (Asians) accounted for 13 per cent of undergraduates last year, and make up 14 per cent of the current freshman class.”

For the record, Jian is not the only one to be miffed about Sethi’s use of editorial discretion or lack thereof. The controversial issue of The Daily Princetonian was brought out wholly as a joke, an annual tradition at the student newspaper. For instance, it had a fictional report about a conservative political professor at Princeton caught with a male prostitute. “I have the matter under review with a lawyer,” professor Robert George told The Philadelphia Inquirer in an interview this week.

The real casualty of the Princeton controversy may turn out to be humour. Already, fewer academic institutions are publishing joke issues of their students’ newspapers as legal liabilities from them rise in this country.

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