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PSU nets $2 million to expand support for Asian American and Pacific Islander students

Students doing homework at the Pacific Islander, Asian and Asian American (PIAAA) Student Center
File photo of students at PSU's Pacific Islander, Asian and Asian American (PIAAA) Student Center

ֱState has been awarded a nearly $2 million federal grant to expand support, resources and services for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students, a testament to the years-long advocacy from students, faculty and staff to better meet their diverse needs.

The five-year award recognizes PSU’s designation as an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI, pronounced anna-peasy) with nearly 11% of PSU’s undergraduate students identifying as AAPI. AANAPISIs must also have a substantial number of enrolled students from low-income backgrounds.

PSU is the first public university in Oregon to receive funding under the AANAPISI designation, and is now recognized as a federally funded Minority Serving Institution (MSI). The AANAPISI designation comes alongside PSU’s progress toward becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI).

“PSU became a majority BIPOC institution in 2022. We are in the midst of coming to terms with this wonderful new reality and figuring out how to make sure it means something amazing for our students, colleagues and community,” said Ame Lambert, vice president for Global Diversity and Inclusion. “The AANAPISI grant seeds this effort for the Pacific Islander and Asian American community, and gives us an opportunity to create a blueprint for our work institutionally and with other communities.”

Betty Izumi, professor and interim associate dean for student and alumni affairs in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, says the grant provides PSU with the resources to build on the work of students, faculty, staff and community partners who, for more than a decade, have advocated for the increased visibility, understanding and support of the diverse experiences of AAPI communities at PSU.

The project’s four main goals are to:

  • Develop a Pacific Islander and Asian American Studies minor;
  • Create a Pacific Islander-specific student retention program;
  • Foster a sense of belonging among AAPI students through programming and faculty workshops; and
  • Increase college readiness among AAPI high school students through culturally specific campus visits and workshops for families

“Ultimately, I want students to come here and to be able to have an experience that is culturally affirming, where they feel like they belong here and where they’re thriving,” Izumi said. “What I hear from a lot of my Asian American and Pacific Islander students is they’re surviving, not thriving, and I want them to thrive.”

Michelle Lee, coordinator of Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi Student Services, described the project as building a pathway that fosters familiarity, community and a sense of belonging even before students arrive at PSU.

PSU plans to partner with local high schools and community organizations to demystify college for AAPI students, many of whom are first-generation or have parents who are immigrants or refugees and unfamiliar with higher education in the U.S.

Culturally and linguistically responsive workshops will provide families with accurate and accessible information on topics such as the benefits of going to college, the application and admissions process, how to pay for college, and what to expect during the transition. PSU will also host AAPI-centered campus visits, building off a successful pilot this past spring that welcomed 100 Pacific Islander students to spend a day at PSU to get a firsthand experience of college.

Once students enroll, Lee said it’s important to surround them with holistic support and resources. The grant will allow PSU to develop summer programming to ease AAPI students’ transition to college; host learning communities; conduct rites of passage events to foster a sense of belonging and serve as a source of motivation; host sharing circles to provide students with space to discuss culturally specific challenges; and develop cultural awareness training for faculty.

Programs like EMPOWER, which supports a cohort of about 20 first-generation Asian and Pacific-Islander identifying students entering PSU for the first time, have been shown to be successful in retention efforts — and the new funding will support the hire of a Pacific Islander student coordinator and creation of a Pacific Islander student retention program.

Lee, who leads EMPOWER, said Pacific Islander students can often feel lost when lumped together under the larger AAPI umbrella — a minority within a minority — and it is important for her to give them their own community and space.

“Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are not the same,” Lee said. “They come in culturally with very different ways of practice, living, language and histories. It’s also why it’s so important to have a Pacific Islander-specific coordinator that these students can see, connect with and trust.”

Izumi said just as important is the desire for representation in the curriculum. AAPI students at PSU have long been asking for a program where they can take courses focusing on the experiences, histories and cultures of their own communities — and the funding will help Pacific Islander and Asian American Studies become a reality. Selected faculty will develop courses that can both fulfill PSU’s new Race and Ethnic Studies requirement and lead to a minor and eventually a major. A visiting scholar in Pacific Islander Studies will also be hired with the intent of eventually hiring them as a permanent faculty member.

Izumi and Lambert said the Minority-Serving Institution designation that comes with the AANAPISI funding shows PSU’s commitment to supporting all minoritized students.

"This grant underscores all of the work that we do at PSU to serve our minoritized students," said PSU President Ann Cudd. "Equity is the ֱation we build upon to ensure that students from all backgrounds can be successful here. This grant will help PSU learn more and do more to serve not just our Asian American and Pacific Islander students, but all of our students.”

Lambert, who oversees diversity, equity and inclusion programs across campus, agreed.

“We really believe two things: that what you do for minoritized communities benefits the whole and there is room for all at the table,” she said. “At the institutional level, we apply a dual approach, both supporting affinity-based efforts that meet the needs of the particular community — which means taking an equity, rather than equality, approach — and working on efforts across communities to ensure all boats are being lifted and all communities are being served.”

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