MSHE Community Members Advocate for Equity and Social Justice

MSHE Community Members Advocate for Equity and Social Justice

By Audra Nelson

Joanne Kang and Phong Luu at NCORE

What does Dr. Seuss, the popular children’s author, have to do with racism against and oppression of today’s Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) student population in higher education?

This is just one of the questions that recent graduate Joanne Kang (MS16) and current student Phong Luu (MS17) answered when they presented “Silenced But Not Forgotten: Relating AAPI History to the Student Experience” at the 30th Annual National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) in Fort Worth, Texas.

Seuss’s collection of early-career political cartoons about World War Two, depicting racist views of Japanese Americans, is one example among many in which images and stereotypes impact students’ understanding of history and seep into their consciousness today.

Kang and Luu’s session, part of the conference’s Race and Social Justice in Higher Education track, aimed to celebrate under-told narratives of APIDA activists and expose the detrimental impacts of having an entire community’s narrative dismissed.

The lack of visibility given to diverse lived experiences within this community has led to the “Model Minority Myth,” which ignores heterogeneity and labels all APIDA community members as submissive, apolitical, wealthy, and academically and socially successful. Research shows that even a positive stereotype like the “model minority” places intense restrictions and pressure on APIDA students, harming their academic performance, self-esteem, and mental health.

Delving into this kind of research and discovering their shared interests during graduate classes in the Master of Science in Higher Education Administration & Policy (MSHE) program prompted Kang and Luu to team up as presenters.

As program coordinator in the Office of Student Affairs at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, Luu strives to educate students and colleagues about harmful, one-dimensional portrayals of the APIDA population.

“I’m also happy to be bringing more visibility to the role of Asian Americans in U.S. history, as this is often overlooked in mainstream media and our communities,” Luu says.

Kang agrees, saying, “It’s important for us to share the stories of people like Yuri Kochiyama. She’s a monumental figure in APIDA history, and she’s never talked about.”

For Kang, a student development coordinator in the Center for Multicultural Affairs at Duke University in Durham, NC, advocating for Asian American students and students of color is central to her career. “Currently, I’m running an event series at Duke similar to a series I ran during my graduate assistantship at Northwestern,” she says. “It’s called ‘CommuniTea,’ and the purpose is to create a space for the APIDA community to discuss topics that affect our community on campus and beyond, such as the Model Minority Myth, anti-blackness, and colorism.”    

Drawing on their combined experiences as higher education administrators, and using the research skills they developed in the MSHE program, Kang and Luu are well-positioned to share insights, resources and best practices to a national audience. The desired result is ambitious and laudable — more socially just, culturally-competent campus cultures, everywhere.


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