Frustrated by the assumption that all Asian American youths are well represented at UC schools, a coalition of Pacific Islander and Asian students at UCLA is pushing for the university to expand its demographic categories to highlight low numbers in some of those communities in hopes of boosting enrollment and outreach programs.
Advocates are collecting signatures to petition legislators and the Board of Regents this fall to change how the university system collects admissions data. They believe more information about students from smaller ethnic groups—such as Hmong and Thai—would focus increased attention on the educational barriers facing certain Asian populations.
Asians and Pacific Islanders have several choices when marking their ethnicity on UC applications, but many of the smaller groups are not represented. And in most official reports, the students are all grouped together.
The students spearheading the “Count Me In” campaign want the UC system to create a specific Pacific Islander category within admissions data and to collect information on students from 10 subgroups, including Bangladeshi, Malaysian and Laotian.
UC officials acknowledged that some Asian communities are underrepresented and said the university system would be open to presenting more specific data.
In addition, she said any change to the way the system collects data would make it harder to track trends over time. But even without more demographic information, Robinson said, the university still can expand its outreach to underrepresented populations.
Carson High School teacher Tammy Bird, who advises the Pacific Islander club, said very few of her Samoan, Tongan and Guamanian students go to four-year colleges. Many are born into gangs, she said, and others simply don’t have an interest in school.
The students’ effort coincides with a state bill—crafted by Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance)—to ensure that state-collected data would be separated into additional Asian and Pacific Islander groups, including Hmong, Taiwanese and Tongan. California collects information for 11 such groups, and the bill would expand that number to 21.
The data would parallel how the federal government gathers demographic information and would enable the state to better allocate limited resources, Lieu said. Among the departments that would be required to separate the data are Employment Development and Social Services.
“We are one of the most diverse Asian-Pacific Islander states in the nation,” Lieu said. “If any state should follow the federal guidelines, it should be California.”
“People assume it’s this model minority community that is highly educated,” said Karin Wang, vice president of programs for the center. “That is true for some of the community but not all pockets of our community.”
Asians and Pacific Islanders are not interchangeable, Wang added. “The reality is that our needs, our histories, are extraordinarily different.”