“Crazy Rich Asians” in Higher Education

Aug 24, 2018 by

Supporting international student health and success

This weekend marked the debut of “Crazy Rich Asians” – a remarkable movie on several fronts.  Despite featuring the first all-Asian cast since “Joy Luck Club” (1993), the movie was #1 at the box offices and heralded as a Hollywood success.  While the success of the movie has been attributed to a strong turn out from Asians and Asian Americans, it’s clear that the movie’s themes of love, family obligations, friendship and staying true to yourself has broader appeal.

I won’t give too much of the movie away by noting that both the lead male and female roles – Nick Young (Henry Golding) and Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) – are NYU professors.  While they share a common profession, Rachel is Asian American (raised in California) and Nick is Asian (from Singapore).  The distinction between “Asian American” and “Asian” extends beyond identity politics. For example, recent controversies about how “Asians” fare with higher education admissions policies focus more on Asian Americans than overseas Asians.

In fact, rather than keeping students out, institutions of higher education have actively recruited Asian students from outside of the United States with the promise of an American degree.  On the one hand, institutions are promising increased diversity with higher international enrollment.  On the other hand, it is no secret that international students rarely qualify for financial assistance and are expected (and arguably recruited) to pay full tuition.  Due to vibrant economies and growing populations, students from Asian countries are particularly attractive recruits (in fact, some cash-strapped public school districts have begun to recruit tuition-paying Asian high school students).

How are these students faring?  By some accounts, not well; particularly in terms of mental health outcomes.  A study of Chinese international students found elevated rates of depression and anxiety attributable to low levels of social support and integration with campus culture and services.  As a population, Asians are generally more reluctant to seek mental health services due to issues of cultural stigma and language barriers and these obstacles to service may be even more challenging for international students who may lack social capital and network resources.

Do higher education institutions have an obligation to support the health and success of students they actively recruit?  Some would say no, but I would argue yes.  Although college students are by most accounts “adults”, the research shows that college and the experiences that accompany this journey are developmentally significant.  College is both a time and a place where many students encounter various forms of diversity (e.g., race, ethnicity, SES, immigration, language, religion, sexual identity) for the first time.  Contact with diversity results in exploration, growth and a redefinition of self.  In many ways, college is a vulnerable period where young adults are faced with increasing autonomy, increased academic pressures, less parental supervision, and a change in their social support safety net.  So yes, I think that we can do more to support the mental health needs of college students, particularly those whom we active recruit for their family’s ability to pay tuition.  If we are going to recruit “crazy rich Asians” to our American institutions, then let’s support their health and success.


Ethier, K. A., & Deaux, K. (1994). Negotiating social identity when contexts change: Maintaining identification and responding to threat. Journal of personality and social psychology, 67(2), 243.

Han, X., Han, X., Luo, Q., Jacobs, S., & Jean-Baptiste, M. (2013). Report of a mental health survey among Chinese international students at Yale University. Journal of American College Health, 61(1), 1-8.

Lin, J. C. G., & Yi, J. K. (1997). Asian international students’ adjustment: Issues and program suggestions. College student journal.

Sue, S., Cheng, J. K. Y., Saad, C. S., & Chu, J. P. (2012). Asian American mental health: A call to action. American Psychologist, 67(7), 532.

Source: “Crazy Rich Asians” in Higher Education | Psychology Today

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