In May 2021, amidst increasing reports of anti-Asian hate crimes, the Steve Fund and the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan convened a group of eight experts in Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) history, college students, and mental health. The group proposes that colleges and universities adopt the following structural recommendations, in an effort to better support their Asian American college student community. We note that both Pacific Islander American students and international students may share in similar stressors with the Asian American student community, however there are significant differences between these student communities. We emphasize that Pacific Islander American and international students be thoughtfully understood as groups with separate histories, racial experiences, and/or sociocultural identities. For example, Pacific Islander American students experience distress as related to their Asian and Indigenous identities and histories, and international students experience distress as related to their nuanced acculturative transitions to the US. For the purposes of our recommendations, we have grouped these groups together, but we stress specific understanding of these varying communities.
First, colleges and universities should elevate the cultural competence of the university at large, emphasizing mental health as an essential component of the college experience. These efforts should be meaningfully coordinated with existing competency efforts aimed at supporting and affirming Black/African American, Indigenous, and Latino/a/x student communities, such that diversity, equity, and inclusion programming and goals be directed at large-scale institutional transformation and coalition-building, rather than siloed between communities. In practice, it will be necessary for student support services (e.g. counseling and psychological services, advising, financial aid, career services, tutoring/writing centers, the registrar, and other administrative services) to be aware of AAPI student needs. To ensure accurate identification of needs across this particularly diverse group, it is also imperative that institutional data about AAPI students be disaggregated. These initiatives will facilitate a culture of holistic wellness that benefits all students.
Second, colleges and universities should conduct an AAPI student and faculty needs assessment. To do this, they should begin by gathering a team with existing knowledge of AAPI communities to tailor an assessment tool that accurately measures need. By disaggregating the data and being intentional about recruiting all students of Asian and Pacific Islander descent (including the many who do not label or identify themselves as AAPI), institutions will ensure a more accurate and specific understanding of their AAPI student community.
And third, institutions should provide physical and educational space for AAPI students to be known and affirmed. Specifically, they can provide courses and programming that focus on AAPI experiences and identities, as well as providing physical areas for students to gather. Hiring AAPI staff and faculty who actively engage with AAPI students would further provide mentorship, support, and visibility for this student community.
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