Reflections on the 2012 APIASF Higher Education Summit

GFY-APIASF-EmpowerNHPIScholarsBy Charles Nguyen,
APIASF/GMS Scholar
Posted originally on July 6, 2012 @ re/present
 

My experience at the 2012 APIASF Higher Education Summit has inspired me more than I had anticipated. As a Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Thai American, I was well aware of the poor higher education attainment rates and severe lack of role models in professional degrees among Southeast Asians reflected in my community. However, the shocking data presented in the CARE report made me realize how seriously disadvantaged Southeast Asians were in higher education. For instance, I was appalled to learn that 42.9 percent of Cambodian-Americans who enrolled in college did not complete a degree. Of the rest who did earn a degree, only 7.6 percent earned an advanced degree. The data was even more alarming for other ethnic groups.

“I realized the model minority myth is still as present as ever and continues to render minority groups invisible from the help they need and deserve.”

I realized the model minority myth is still as present as ever and continues to render minority groups invisible from the help they need and deserve. Because of the tendency to aggregate all Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) ethnic groups under one umbrella, the problems and realities AAPIs face are left unaddressed and unseen. As a result, deserving AAPIs are not included in “minority” descriptions and receive significantly less funding for scholarships and AAPI serving schools, and left out of programs designed to help disadvantaged groups. I was very moved by the emotional example from a Pacific Islander student who brought to attention the severity of the poor educational opportunities in the Pacific Islands as a result of being neglected by our own government. The call for a disaggregation of data for AAPIs is the first step toward creating awareness of the severity of the educational disadvantages AAPIs face, and a step toward true educational equity in order to give all ethnic groups equal opportunities.

The Summit and data in the CARE report put into perspective why so few Southeast Asian Americans are in college, have professional degrees, and hold leadership positions. I have witnessed personally many Southeast Asians in my own community who have not completed a high school or college degree. Those who do attend college find it increasingly difficult to qualify for much needed scholarships and educational programs, because of the prevalence of the model minority myth and our exclusion from minority programs. Thus, AAPIs, especially Southeast Asians, face an additional barrier to our efforts to uplift ourselves out of poverty, crime, and unequal opportunity on top of our historical struggles as refugees and immigrants.

It is frustrating how AAPIs continue to struggle and are left invisible by beneficial educational programs, despite the shocking realities raised by the CARE report. I have been personally afflicted by such exclusions. While searching for summer research programs, I found that most of the programs geared toward disadvantaged students or minorities excluded AAPIs. However, I was not discouraged and applied for 20 programs. I was accepted into only two programs, including one at Yale Medical School. If I had not attended Yale’s research program, I would have not been able to gain valuable research experience and would have been at a greater disadvantage when considering future internships and graduate schools. The need to include AAPIs in minority and disadvantaged descriptions is made apparent in my example, which is important toward creating education equity.

Charles Nguyen is a Coolidge Otis Chapman Honors Scholar at the University of Puget Sound and is majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology. He is passionate about global health, medicine, and issues affecting AAPIs. He is part of the Class of 2008 Gates Millennium Scholars.

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