HomeAsian AmericansAANHPI higher education leaders discuss systemic barriers, support

AANHPI higher education leaders discuss systemic barriers, support

by Matthew Yoshimoto, AsAmNews Intern

For the first time in U.S. history, the White House hosted a leadership development summit for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders in higher education.

AANHPI higher education leaders, administrators, and faculty spoke on public service opportunities, equity-focused programs and systematic challenges in higher education during the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI) summit at the University of California, Berkeley, last Tuesday. The itinerary featured breakout sessions in addition to panel discussions.

The summit began by Erika L. Moritsugu. Deputy Assistant to the President and Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Senior Liaison, greeting the crowd with a welcoming “Alooooo-ha.”

Moritsugu continued by reading a statement by Vice President Kamala Harris, in which Harris explained that she understands existing systemic barriers to success facing AANHPI high education leaders, noting that her mother was the first woman of color to hold a position as a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Harris said the Biden-Harris administration is committed to advancing educational equity, ending disparities and making higher education more accessible to all. She noted that the administration has invested over $6 billion in AANHPI-serving institutions and forgiven almost $144 billion of student debt. 

“Your efforts to advance equity, expand opportunity, and open doors enable students to be supported in inclusive, professional environments. We know that this makes a lifelong difference,” Harris said in her statement. “Together, we will continue fighting to provide AA and NHPI communities the resources, security, and opportunities they need to thrive.”

Carol T. Christ, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, explained the campus has a “strong representation of Asian Americans” with five AAPI deans, one associate vice chancellor and several assistant vice-chancellors. 

Christ said the university has worked to achieve our status as an AANHPI-serving institution, which means they play a vital role in advancing and accelerating efforts to expand the support, resources and services offered to AANHPI communities.

“Before us is a day filled with opportunities to learn, grow, engage and connect. I hope you’ll make the very most of what is on offer, for the stakes could not be higher. Quality, diversity, knowledge, preparation and values of our leaders will have a direct lasting impact on our students. And by extension, on the future of our society, and our democracy,” Christ said in her opening dialogue at the summit.

Jason Tengco, White House Liaison and Senior Advisor for Strategic Initiatives for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), stressed the importance of having a diverse workout in higher education. He highlighted federal internship and fellowship opportunities as well as federal job application assistance available to emerging AANHPI leaders in public service. 

“Minority-Serving Institutions often serve as empowering and helpful resources for students and recent graduates interested in public service, including those from Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities,” said OPM Director Kiran Ahuja in a statement sent to AsAmNews. “As the federal government’s chief human resources agency, OPM is deeply committed to developing policies and services that advance equity across federal agencies and remove barriers to serve for underserved communities.”

Noting there is a college completion crisis, Amanda Fuchs Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Higher Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education, said her department has launched the initiative “Raise the Bar: College Excellence and Equity” to close equity gaps in higher education. 

She noted the various funding, grant, and resource support opportunities to AANHPI leaders that are offered through the department.

“Building higher education that is inclusive delivers real value to students, both equity and affordable is essential. And it’s critical part of the Biden Harris administration’s efforts to grow America’s middle class and strengthen our nation’s global competitiveness. But it doesn’t happen without overcoming real challenges happening today in our institutions. Our current higher education system leaves too many students behind especially those with historically underserved communities of color, and lower-income communities,” said Miller.

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla in a video message emphasized the importance of federal investment to allow students greater higher education opportunities through pipeline programs and strengthening the inclusivity of college faculty. 

Faith Rynda, Public Engagement Coordinator in the White House Office of Public Engagement who was a first-generation college student, spoke about persisting barriers and the model minority myth facing AANHPI students. 

“Each person here has a unique appreciation for how life changing a quality higher education can be, but also how difficult it is to still access for many in our country. This is particularly true of people of color, including AANHPI students face significant barriers to us assuming completing college,” said Rynda.

Robert A. Underwood, Robert A. Underwood, co-chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on AA and NHPIs’ Data Disaggregation and Education Subcommittee, said he worked to introduce the first legislation to designate AANAPISI as its own term in 1998. 

With this legislation not being approved the first time it was proposed, Underwood explained “there’s always a need for advocacy” to advance the opportunities for AANHPI higher education leaders. 

“There’s still a lot of work to do. There’s always work to do, because the population has changed, the dynamics have changed. And so in order to make sure that we continue to focus on that,” said Underwood. “The biggest thing lesson we can learn from that is you need advocacy, need to continue to put pressure on, you need to congratulate those that are helping you. And you need to push a little under people who aren’t coming.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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