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Anti-Racism College Guide for AAPI Students and Allies

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Higher Education Consultant
Gabe is a higher education consultant and former English professor with a doctorate in English from University of Georgia. With over a decade of experience in higher education, Gabe has taught at nearly every kind of institution, from major R1 public universities to small liberal arts colleges to community colleges.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a time of great anxiety and fear for all Americans, but Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have had particular reason to feel dread. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have experienced a wave of anti-Asian discrimination, harassment, and even violence. People of Asian descent in the US have endured racist jokes and insults in real life and online; xenophobic conspiracy theories about the origin of the disease; and deadly violence on the street, in their businesses, and in their homes. AAPI college students and online college students have much to consider.

Some incidents have been publicized in the media. Chinese-American grandmother Xiao Zhen Xie made national news first when she fought off a white attacker in San Francisco, then again when she passed the $1 million donated for her medical care on to community charities. Her attack came just a day after the brutal mass murder of six Asian women in Atlanta, a tragedy covered with the news media’s usual level of sensitivity. But thousands of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have suffered daily threats and harassment without official notice. 

College students of Asian and Pacific Islander descent may wonder what protections and resources are available to them, whether from their schools or from the community at large. That’s why the editors at College Consensus have put together this guide to resources for AAPI college students. 

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Who are Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders?

Since the 1970s, the US government has chosen to broadly define the category of Asian and Pacific Islander for census purposes – a  decision that has not always sat well with the ethnicities and cultural groups included. 

In general, Asian American and Pacific Islanders include: 

  • Afghan Americans
  • American Samoans
  • Bangladeshi Americans
  • Cambodian Americans
  • Chinese Americans
  • East Asian Americans
  • East Indian Americans
  • Filipino Americans
  • Guamanians
  • Indonesian Americans
  • Japanese Americans
  • Korean Americans
  • Laotian Americans
  • Northern Mariana Islanders
  • Pacific Islanders
  • Pakistani Americans
  • South Asian Americans
  • Southeast Asian Americans
  • Thai Americans
  • Tongans
  • Vietnamese Americans

The Department of Education expands this list, encompassing Eastern and Central Asian peoples along with island peoples, by including Native Americans and Native Alaskans – an extremely broad category made up of people groups who have little to no cultural or ethnic relation, and who came to the US in vastly different times, under vastly different circumstances.

The category is so broad, then, that it becomes difficult for researchers to account for economic, educational, and occupational opportunity and disparity. Much of the trouble in defining Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and Native Alaskans demographically is that there are significant socioeconomic differences within that large group. 

Even the census grouping of Asian and Pacific Islander includes groups that immigrated in distinct waves – the late 19th century and early 20th century (predominantly Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino workers in California), and the second wave in the late 20th century (predominantly Southeast Asian refugees escaping wars in Korea, Vietnam, and surrounding nations). Because of these differences in opportunity, understanding higher education statistics for AAPI college students can be complex. 

Asian American and Pacific Islander College Students 

The US Department of Education recognizes 113 colleges and universities as Asian American-Native American-Pacific Islander-serving institutions (just as it recognizes African American-serving institutions and Hispanic-serving institutions). The majority of those are on the West Coast, especially California. 

However, a closer look at Asian American college students demonstrates the large differences in demographics. For instance, 58% of Asian American youth were enrolled in college in 2016; only 21% of Pacific Islanders and 19% of Native Americans and Alaska Natives were enrolled. But when Asian American students are further broken down, there are significant disparities. For instance: 

  • 78% of Chinese, 70% of Japanese, and 70% of Korean youth are enrolled in college 
  • Only 43% of Laotian, 39% of Hmong, and 23% of Burmese youth are enrolled

The differences between Asian-American youth from more established groups, versus those whose families came more recently, are significant. Similarly, 74% of Asian-American students completed their bachelor’s degree within 6 years of enrolling; only 51% of Pacific Islanders and 39% of American Indian/Native Alaskan students did. 

It’s clear from demographic data that Asian American Pacific Islander students, while lumped together, have very different support needs. The persistent myth of Asians as the “Model Minority” means that the needs of Asian students are often overlooked by colleges and universities. 

The Asian American Psychological Association offers 3 key steps college and universities can take to improve support for Asian American First-Generation College Students:

Colleges should actively seek out faculty and staff from the AAPI community, with an emphasis on the diverse cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds that AAPI encompasses.

Colleges must provide and develop better resources, particularly for first-generation AAPI students, including language development, mental health care, financial support, and guidance from the AAPI faculty indicated in the first step. 

Institutions should seriously reckon with the individual and collective struggles of AAPI college students, including the past and present traumas of colonialism, racism, immigration law, the pressure to assimilate, and the attendant need for medical and mental health services. 

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History Reading Room

While the US has gradually come to recognize the contributions of African Americans and Hispanic/Latinx Americans, Asian Americans are still often ignored in the historical conversation. Here are some resources to get a handle on what AAPI people have brought to America. 

Advocacy for Asian American Pacific Islander People 

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have started numerous organizations to advocate for change, from the workplace and education to entertainment and media. Their activity has increased with even more boldness and enthusiasm during the pandemic. 

Mental Health for AAPI Students

Mental health is an important component of institutional support for college students, but for Asian Americans in particular, it is a complicated subject. Asian Americans are far less likely to seek professional mental health services than other groups, according to the American Psychological Association. 

  • The Asian Mental Health Collective is a non-profit organization dedicated to ending the Asian American community’s mental health stigma and to helping Asian American individuals and families get the services they need. 
  • The Asian Mental Health Project provides educational programming, community events, and partnerships with mental health providers and organizations to help Asian Americans  in need of mental health support. 
  • The Asian American Psychological Association offers resources for AAPI students who want to study psychology, as well as resources for Asian Americans looking for help with their mental health.  
  • Brown Girl Therapy is a Facebook group dedicated to mental health support and community for women of South Asian descent. 
  • provides an exhaustive database of South Asian therapist providers, for mental health patients seeking a therapist who understands where they’re coming from.  

Studies of AAPI Students

Due to the discrepancies discussed above, studies of Asian American and Pacific Islander college students have been troubled. Still, there are useful resources for students and researchers seeking to understand the college experience for AAPI students. 

  • The Asian American Psychological Association has a fascinating factsheet on Asian American first-generation college students, providing a straightforward, boiled-down look at higher education  experience Asian American college students. 
  • A 2019 article in Higher Education Today takes the ACE’s study to task, putting statistics into context to explain how Asian American Pacific Islander students are really doing – beyond the “Model Minority” narrative. 
  • An article on Inside Higher Ed provides an overview of studies on achievement among Asian American Pacific Islander college students, especially the overlooked gaps in data.
  • The National Center for Education Statistics provides extensive demographic data in Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups. While the most currrent statistics are from 2017, they offer a clear look at changes over time and disparities in education among ethnic groups. 
  • The Post-Secondary National Policy Institute (PNPI) has a factsheet focusing on higher education disparities among Asian American Pacific Islander students. 

AAPI Organizations and Associations

There are many organizations for Asian American activists, professionals, and communities. We would like to highlight a few that have something to offer for AAPI college students. 

Asian American Youth Leadership Empowerment And Development (AALEAD) —  AALEAD’s mission is to support low-income and underserved Asian Pacific American youth with educational empowerment, identity development, and leadership opportunities through after school, summer, and mentoring programs.

The Asian American Psychological Association is focused on the mental health needs of Asian-Americans. This included providing resources for Asian-American psychologist and mental health providers as well as for Asian-Americans experiencing mental health issues.  

The Asian American Federation is a New York-based organization offering support, advocacy, and research for the pan-Asian community. Since 1989 the AAF has expanded to more than 70 member and partner organizations. 

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How Allies Can Help

Asian American Pacific Islanders cannot be expected to turn around a history of racism, exclusion, and violence all on their own. There are resources for fellow students, faculty, and other allies who want to make a difference. 

  • The Asian American Day of Action is not just one day – it’s a national movement to provide safety, healing, and advocacy for Asian Americans targeted by hate and violence. 
  • Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Hollaback! offer the Anti-Asian Harassment Response and Bystander Training Series, helping allies learn strategies for intervening when they witness harassment. 
  • Stop AAPI Hate! provides a means for people to report hate crimes, harassment, and other racist incidents online. 

Scholarships for Asian American College Students 

One of the most significant – and troubling – gaps in support for Asian American Pacific Islander college students is in financial aid and scholarships. One effect the lack of recognition from higher education institutions brings includes a relatively low amount of AAPI-focused scholarships. In fact, one of the AAPA’s key recommendations is for colleges and universities to prioritize scholarship opportunities for AAPI students. Here are just a few scholarships especially for Asian American Pacific Islander college students. 

Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) Scholarship

The AANAPISI Scholarship offers awards of $2500-$15,000 for Asian American and Pacific Islander college students. In addition to having a GPA of 2.7, applicants must offer a short essay, letter of recommendation, and fill out their FAFSA forms. One AANAPISI scholarship is specifically for students attending an AANAPI-serving institution, while the other is a general scholarship for AAPI students. 

Chinese American Medical Society Scholarship

The Chinese American Medical Society offers scholarships for medical students of Chinese descent in either medical or dental school. Applicants must already be enrolled, and offer two letters of recommendation as well as a letter from their dean indicating good standing in the program. 

OCA-UPS Gold Mountain Scholarship for Rising College Seniors 

The OCA-UPS offers Asian American Pacific Islander-identifying students $2500 through the Gold Mountain Scholarship for Rising College Seniors. The OCA-UPS scholarship is for rising seniors to use to get the over the last financial hurdles of their senior year. In addition to being AAPI-identifying, students must attend the summit titled Resilient Communities, a virtual event sponsored by the OCA. 

OCA-UPS Gold Mountain Scholarship for Graduating High School Seniors

The OCA-UPS also offers the Gold Mountain Scholarship for Graduating High School Seniors, which awards $2,000 to Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) high school seniors. Applicants must be the first in their immediate family to attend college. 

Spectrum Scholars for Rising College Juniors 

The Spectrum Scholars award offers rising college juniors up to $20,000 for their junior and senior year. Students must show documented financial need. These students will be a part of a 2-year program of professional development, possibly culminating in an actual career with Charter Communications for qualified graduates. All students will have the opportunity to intern with Charter, and have a personal mentor. 

Spectrum Scholars awards qualified rising college juniors with financial need $20,000 in scholarships over their junior and senior year. Selected Scholars will participate in a structured, two-year program focusing on professional development and a potential career at Charter Communications Inc. Students will also receive a professional career mentor and opportunity to explore an internship at Charter.


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