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An Outsider’s View, Self-Worth


Before 2011, Amy Chua would have described herself as a “mild mannered professor.” She was teaching law at Yale University and raising her two daughters.

“Nobody knew who I was, I had never been on major TV — I didn’t even have a Facebook,” says Chua. “And suddenly, overnight, there were headlines: ‘Most Hated Mother on the Planet!’”

Amy ChuaAmy ChuaThose headlines came from reviews of her memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. What Chua had intended as a semi-comedic study of parenting at a cultural intersection quickly became a hotly contested book.

“A lot of people were talking about it without having read it. Part of the problem is that the Wall Street Journal excerpted some of the most provocative parts that are now famous, and a lot of people only read the excerpt,” says Chua in an interview with Diverse. “If you actually read the book, you realize that it gets really complicated. It’s much more reflective.”

More than a decade has passed since Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother changed the shape of Chua’s and her family’s lives, years peppered by other conflicts and controversies. In 2018, Chua and her husband, fellow Yale Law School professor Jed Rubenfeld, were investigated for allegedly telling students to dress like models for a better chance at winning a clerkship with Brett Kavanaugh, now a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. In response to those allegations, Chua agreed to end out-of-class time with students but was accused of breaking that agreement by hosting student dinners, which Chua has denied.

Becoming a novelist

But despite these controversies, Chua has persevered. She has learned, grown, and chased the dreams of her younger self by finally becoming a novelist. Her book, The Golden Gate, released in September 2023, is both historical fiction and a mystery, a blend of Chua’s varied interests. While this fictional story may seem disparate from her earlier, nonfictional works, Chua says she has found a unifying theme connecting them: the perspective of an outsider.

“Every single one of my books, from my foreign policy books, to this notorious Tiger Mother memoir, and even to this novel, The Golden Gate, in some ways reflects an outsider’s perspective,” says Chua, saying her life experiences have “been a long process of learning, [going] from feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t belong, I really stick out,’ to learning how to turn being an outsider into a source of strength.’”

In 2023, Chua received the Lux et Veritas Faculty Prize by the Buckley Institute, which acknowledges Yale faculty members who cultivate intellectual diversity both in and outside the class. Students confirm that Chua is deeply interested in all of her pupils, regardless of their politics or beliefs. Through her open, human connection with her students, she is able to guide them on pathways that may or may not be traditional. Some of her students are pursuing clerkships, while others are embarking on different paths. One student, Liza Anderson, wrote and published a fantasy novel at Chua’s prompting.

The Golden Gate, released in September 2023, is both historical fiction and a mystery, a blend of Amy Chua’s varied interests.The Golden Gate, released in September 2023, is both historical fiction and a mystery, a blend of Amy Chua’s varied interests.“I remember, I went to her office hours a number of times when I was struggling with not enjoying law school and having this thing on the side [writing] I wanted to spend all my time with,” says Anderson, whose book, We Who Have No Gods, should be making its appearance in 2025 or early 2026. “I remember, she was not like, ‘It’s gonna be ok, buck up!’ She was like, ‘You need to get disciplined. If you want to write the book, write the book.’”

That discipline, says Anderson, didn’t mean buckling down and studying even harder. Instead, it meant that Anderson should focus on doing the thing she loved, writing.

“It was a mind-blowing thing for a professor to say,” says Anderson. “It was a complete reframing for me — like, the discipline is not you doing all of your schoolwork and raising your hand in class. The discipline is figuring out what you want to do, and go after it.”

An outsider’s view

Chua says she has a great understanding for outsiders, because she spent most of her time in law school, and her first years as a lawyer at a corporate firm on Wall Street, feeling as though she did not belong. It wasn’t just because her interests focused on a lesser-studied subset of law focusing on developing countries. It was also because, for many years, Chua was one of the only women and Asian Americans in her role.

“When I first joined the [Yale Law] faculty, I would go to a faculty meeting that would be 90% white males. White males that were very nice to me,” she says, adding that many of them became her best advocates and mentors. “But it made me terrified to speak at faculty meetings. I wanted to try to sound like them.”

The struggle to find her place in law, Chua says, has ultimately made her a more effective teacher.

“I just love my students. I find every single one interesting,” says Chua.

Amara Banks, a current law student at Yale, says that Chua has set an important example in life: “You can do whatever you want as a lawyer, as an academic, and as a woman of color.”

“I think about that all the time, when I see people doing cool things out in the world with backgrounds totally different from mine,” says Banks. “Instead of being like, oh it’s a shame I didn’t go to film school or pick a different path — just work the path I’m already on. I feel more confident in that belief because of people like Professor Chua.”

Banks has not yet decided how she wants to use her law degree, but she knows that whatever she pursues, she will be true to herself.

“I’m really extroverted, really chatty and bubbly — I don’t see myself being in one of those suits,” says Banks. “Anything I expressed interest in, [Chua] was committed to helping me do that. She never made me feel like I could not measure up to what I wanted, and that’s an experience I’ve had with other educators. I know what it’s like for someone to not believe in me, so it’s amazing to have Professor Chua be the total opposite of that.”

A committed mentor

Chua says she tells her students to “find your comparative advantage.”

“I tell my students, figure out what you’re naturally best at. And if you can make your career about what you would actually like to be talking to your friends about anyway, that would be so much better,” says Chua. “I like to think of myself as a talent scout — I know [my students] are talented — I’m gonna help them figure out what it is they’re secretly good at.”

Debbie Rabinovich, a current Yale Law student, says Chua can see what people offer and isn’t afraid to push back “in ways that make sense.” Chua, she says, was able to point out to Rabinovich that her curiosity and questions would be a good fit for academia. Now, Rabinovich will be attending Princeton University to attain her Ph.D. in history after graduating from Yale.

“I’m really excited about it, and it feels like a good way to explore the areas of law and history I’m interested in — but it’s not a traditional post-grad path for law students,” says Rabinovich. “It’s hard to underscore how isolating it feels in law school not to do what everyone else is doing, in terms of career path, and I think that she saw it made sense for me. She was never prescriptive, and I think that’s really rare in the law school setting. It’s been really valuable to me.”

Bringing this level of energy and support to her students means that Chua is actively practicing resting — she reserves her Tuesdays for sweatpants, research, and time with her dogs. Energy, she says, has to be replenished. At the same time, she categorizes herself as a Type A personality, who often struggles to relax even while on the beach.

“I often find women are very hard on themselves,” says Chua. “I see it in my students, because I think that’s a very common trait in high-achieving students: you are just too tough on yourself. So, I’m still a work in progress, because I don’t think that’s really very healthy. Life is too short.”

It’s one of the reasons Chua is so proud she has fulfilled her lifelong dream of completing a novel. Chua has been a fan of mysteries since she was a little girl, rapidly consuming Nancy Drew stories and Agatha Christie novels at her local public library. Now, she is already hard at work on her second novel, and practicing how to go easier on herself when she wants to branch out creatively, and not be such a stickler for historical facts when she delves into fictional worlds.

Chua credits her parents for her ability to pick herself up after controversy or failures. Although they were strict, Chua says they instilled within her a sense of self-worth, something she says is critical for those living life on the margins.

“I think [self-worth] is very important, especially for people with non-fancy backgrounds, from outsider backgrounds — you don’t have to be an immigrant or a minority — there are so many ways of being an outsider,” says Chua. “It never gets easy, but I always tell my students, ‘Just one more day, just push through.’ There is not always a light at the end of the tunnel, but I actually have learned that many of the biggest disasters of my life, you know, things I thought I would never recover from, turned out to be blessings in disguise.”

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