Asian and Pacific Islander Students in California Say ‘Count Us Correctly’
By Margaret Kamara
When Christine Santos arrived at the University of California, Los Angeles from Guam in the fall of 2004, she said she felt like a foreigner even though nearly 34 percent of new students at UCLA were Asian.
Joining the Pacific Islander Student Association made her feel even lonelier and more underrepresented, she says. Even within the group, there were not many other Guamanian students. Santos says UCLA could help alleviate that loneliness by recognizing the ethnic differences between Asian groups.
Instead, the university lumps Santos and others into the category “Asian,” which includes Koreans, Pacific Islanders and Vietnamese, among several other distinct groups.
Last year, Santos joined the “Count Me In” campaign to get the University of California system, as well as the state, to disaggregate data so that the needs and challenges of the various Asian subgroups are overlooked.
The statewide student campaign tries to address what Oiyan Poon, president of the University of California Student Association, calls a “national issue.”
“Asian American and Pacific Islanders are one of the fastest growing populations in the country, and depending on where they live, they have specific needs,” says Poon.
“If you ignore the needs of a rapidly growing population, this will impact [both] society and the economy.”
UCSA is a coalition of undergraduate, graduate and professional students from across the university’s 10 campuses. The coalition has been lobbying for passage of a bill, sponsored by state Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, that would require specified state agencies, boards and commissions that collect demographical data to “use separate collection categories and tabulations for each major Asian and Pacific Islander group.”
Campaign organizers hope to shed light on the disparities that exists within the subgroups. Though as a whole “Asians” appear socially and economically successful, students in some of the groups are underperforming and often come from low-income families.
Last month, the Government Accountability Office released a report noting that the Asian umbrella masks the underperformance of some Asian subgroups, like Vietnamese and Native Hawaiians. The GOA recommends that the U.S. Department of Education facilitate information sharing between Asian and Pacific Islander-serving institutions about strategies to retain, recruit and increase the graduation rates of all Asian and Pacific Islander students.
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