The Barbour Scholarships: Striving for Better Education,
or Just a Tool for Assimilation?
United States foreign policy has continually posed a controversial and changing issue. In the early twentieth century, Congress enacted multiple immigration regulation acts, including the Johnson Reed Act in 1924, which restricted immigration from China, Japan and India in response to American citizens' uncertainties and resentment towards minorities. As more minorities diversified the nation and began to prosper, white Americans feared the loss of power and control over them, instilling increased tension among the races. Thus, in 1917 the acceptance of the Barbour Scholarship for Oriental Women at the University of Michigan was a drastic counter- cultural venture; through it, Asian women were given an invaluable opportunity to obtain a fully funded education at the university so they could return to their home countries with new knowledge and professional skills that would allow them to escape the oppression of their native countries. For centuries, women have been considered subordinate to men, treated as lesser human beings, born only to serve their sexual counterpart. Even in the United States, women did not earn the right to vote until 1920, and were still treated unequally in the work force and in the society as a whole. In Asia, the perception and treatment of women was no different. From birth, women in Asia were seen as inferior to men. As Katie Curtin describes in Women in China, if a woman gave birth to a daughter and, thus, failed in the task of producing a son to carry on the family name and help support the family financially, "she could be cast out of her husband's home, disgraced, and socially ostracized. It was only her function as a breeder that she attained a status in society." In China, women were treated as slaves, forced to have their feet bound in order to restrain them from leaving the home. As Curtin describes, women went through three stages of life: "In the first she was under the authority of the father, then under her husband, and finally, if he died, she was subject to her son." Even the symbols of men and women emphasized their social standing. Yin describing women meant dark, evil, and passive, whereas Yang, which meant men stood for strong, active, and brave. In Japan, some school-aged girls were taken from their families as in a slave raid, for the purpose of becoming military prostitutes, or "comfort women." The schools were used as a source for recruitment, thus dissuading many never to attend school for fear of being taken against their will. Many victims were so young that they had never previously engaged in sexual relations: "Like other virgins, Bok Sil resisted with all her strength, but was violently deflowered. She ended up covered in blood while screams sounded from the adjoining rooms." As a result of Confucian ideology, women were excluded from the educational system, and taught how to behave as women and respectable wives, rather than as self-reliant and independent-thinking individuals. With the collapse of the feudal dynasty, women were eventually permitted to receive an education but only up to the senior level comparable to our high school system today, in which they were taught four subjects: history, geography, arts and natural science. As expressed in Jeanne Bisilliat and Michele Fieloux's book Women of the Third World: "Imprisoned as they are by their own culture and ignorant of other cultures, the oppression to which women are subjected takes place at every level: their work, their condemnation and their redemption." Through the Barbour Scholarship for Oriental Women at the University of Michigan, women who were oppressed in their native countries were given the ability to overcome their former social standing and receive an unprecedented education. The Barbour Scholarship was established by a University of Michigan alumnus from the class of 1863, Mr....
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