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Student success, Asian American college students, Race discrimination -- United States, Asian Americans -- Social conditions, Pacific Islanders -- Education (Higher) -- United States, Racial justice, Racism, Anti-racism


Since the 2010 Census, Oregon’s Asian American population has grown by 42.3% and its Pacific Islander population has grown by 57.3%, making these groups the fastest growing in the state (US Census Bureau, 2019; US Census Bureau, 2020a). In the Portland metropolitan area, these populations experienced a growth of 42.1% and 64.7%, respectively (US Census Bureau, 2019; US Census Bureau, 2020a). Although Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are often lumped together as a monolith, they differ from each other in ethnicity and also culture, politics, socioeconomic status, language, religion, immigration status, and migration and colonization histories. Given the history of anti-Asian exclusion laws in the US and the colonization of the Pacific Islands, AAPIs are often invisible in the US cultural, social, and political landscapes. Furthermore, the racist stereotype of the model minority — successfully assimilated, high-achieving, and upwardly mobile — erases the heterogeneity of AAPIs and their long history of racism. More recently, racist phrases associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have fueled anti-AAPI racism and xenophobia.

As an anchor institution, Portland State University aims to provide all Oregonians with an opportunity to pursue a college education in an environment that promotes access, inclusion, and equity as its pillars of excellence. With its proximity to organizations that serve AAPIs, such as APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon), Asian Health & Services Center, and Asian Family Center, Portland State has an enormous opportunity to meet the higher education needs and aspirations of AAPIs, especially among those who live in the Portland metropolitan area where much of their population growth has been concentrated. In order to attract, retain, and graduate AAPI students, Portland State must distinguish itself as an institution that values equity in higher education and is inclusive of all students, including those who identify as AAPI.

The needs of AAPI students at PSU, however, have long been overlooked and misunderstood. Although more than 13% of undergraduate and about 8% of graduate students identify as AAPI, Portland State still does not have an AAPI Studies Program despite almost a decade of activism led by students with support from faculty and staff. Recently reported findings from Students First, a campus-wide initiative focused on student success, are also troubling. Compared with other racial groups, Pacific Islander students have among the lowest retention and graduation rates. And the 2020 Student Experience Survey (Loper & Garrity, 2020) shows that, compared to their peers, Asian American students experience greater challenges related to academic support, commuting to campus, and emotional or mental health. Cultural representation among faculty and staff on college campuses is critical for reducing the negative effects caused by racist stereotypes such as the “model minority” and “forever foreigner” and to 3 increase a sense of belonging (Yeh, 2004; Poon et al., 2016). Yet the number of AAPI faculty and staff at PSU has not kept pace with the increasing numbers of AAPI students.

This report presents three priority actions that Portland State can take towards fulfilling its commitment to ensuring that all of their students, including those who identify as AAPI, have the opportunity and support they need to experience the transformative power of a college education.

ACTION 1: Establish an Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies Program in the School of Gender, Race and Nations by the 2022 Fall term.

ACTION 2: Collect disaggregated and nuanced data to better understand the experiences and challenges faced by Asian American and Pacific Islander students at Portland State.

ACTION 3: Establish policies and practices to retain, recognize, and reward Asian American and Pacific Islander faculty and staff whose efforts help to enable the University to deliver on its access mission.

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Slides_AAPI_Presidential_Fellows_Report.pdf (498 kB)
PowerPoint Slides