Hmong American PhD student rejected for prestigious fellowship for not being in ‘underrepresented’ group

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A Hmong American Ph.D. candidate studying neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was refused a fellowship after it was determined that she was not from an “underrepresented” group because she’s Asian American.

“Model minority” myth: In a Twitter thread, doctoral student Kao Lee Yang said she was nominated for the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowship but was told by a committee that she didn’t fit its “Racial/Ethnic Underrepresentation” criteria.

  • “We are not a monolithic group,” she said. “While some Asian Americans are academically successful, others like the Hmong, are underrepresented in STEM and academia in general.”

  • Yang asked the fellowship committee and others in the scientific community to name a Hmong American woman neuroscientist: “I would love to connect with her if she is out there.”

  • “I am an example of the consequences resulting from the continued practice of grouping people with East /Southeast/South Asian heritages underneath the ‘Asian American’ umbrella,” she added.

  • Yang went on to explain how the “model minority” myth hurts Asians: “But studies making those claims are looking at aggregated data and are treating Asian Americans as a monolithic group.”

Underrepresentation in science: Under its eligibility criteria, HHMI defined “excluded groups to be persons who identify as Black or African American, Latinx or Hispanic American, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native, and from groups indigenous to the Pacific Island territories of the United States.”

  • But it does acknowledge that underrepresentation varies “from setting to setting.”

  • Yang pointed out a couple of ways fellowships like HHMI can do better. First, “Disaggregate Asian American data in studies.” Second, fellowships should broaden “perspectives on what it means to be an ethnic/racial minority who is underrepresented in science and how to support underrepresented students.”

#AcademicTwitter: Yang has received an outpouring of support from fellow scientists and academics since she first posted her thread on Oct. 27.

Featured Image via Howard Hughes Medical Institute (left), @KaoLeeYang1 (right)

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