Working with diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) college students for years has been both rewarding and a struggle. The diversity that exists under this umbrella makes it difficult to balance their many voices and experiences, but, at the same time, it has provided a richness of cross-cultural and inter-cultural sharing and solidarity. Added to this diversity of culture and ethnicity is the diversity of other identity markers including sexual orientation, immigration status, and generation (first generation, second generation, etc…).
According to the most recent Census data, some AAPIs have staggering educational needs that may be overlooked or masked by aggregated data. For example, 29 percent of Vietnamese-Americans, 38 percent of Hmong-Americans, 33 percent of Laotian-Americans, and 37 percent of Cambodian-Americans do not complete high school. Only 13 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders 25 years of age and older have a bachelor’s degree.
While at UCLA, I was fortunate to work with a group of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) students who took it upon themselves to create a tutoring and mentoring program for NHPI high school youth in Los Angeles called PIER (Pacific Islander Education and Retention). Falling under the larger AAPI umbrella and the pervasiveness of the model minority myth, it was difficult for these NHPI students to advocate for resources to support PIER. Through their persistence they not only secured that support, but PIER joined with other Asian American student leaders at UCLA and created the successful “Count Me In” campaign which lobbied the University of California system to disaggregate their AAPI data.
Disaggregation of data is a necessary step in fully understanding the needs of the AAPI community and many other pan-ethnic communities. Realizing the disparities, the U.S. Department of Education, in collaboration with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), is working to remove hurdles in students’ lives by seeking public input on promising practices for disaggregating data on subgroups within the AAPI student population. Due to the extraordinary interest in data disaggregation, the deadline to provide submissions has been extended to August 13, 2012. Additional information about the Request for Information can be found here. Responses should be submitted though this portal.
The disaggregation of data can have extraordinary effects on students and I have seen great programs that have come from leveraging this information. For example, the Initiatives to Maximize Positive academic Achievement and Cultural Thriving (IMPACT) Program focusing on AAPI students at De Anza College in Cupertino, California, has been able to close gaps in academic achievement among AAPI students by focusing on subgroups that are historically underrepresented in higher education.
This collection of data holds great importance and potential because many institutions currently do not recognize differences within the AAPI community. Not all college campuses and institutions have resource centers specifically for AAPI students. Thus, institutions only have their own limited data to inform their decisions and resource allocations. Recognizing differences within AAPI subgroups will allow institutions to better understand and help students achieve higher success. It is a crucial task that moves students, especially those who are first or second generation, closer to achieving the American Dream.
Sefa Aina is the Associate Dean and Director of the Asian American Resource Center (AARC) at Pomona College. He serves on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.