How multicultural centres in the US improve university for Asian students
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The thing about stereotypes is that they assume – wrongly most of the time – that everyone is the same based on a single characteristic.

While data shows that Asian Americans have among the highest graduation rates at US universities, it would be wrong to think all of them are academic superstars without any need for help or support from the institutions themselves.

A recent report by the New York Times found that many Southeast Asians don’t fit the mould of the Asian Americans who flourish in the country’s schools and colleges. At Middlesex Community College – where there is a large presence of Southeast Asians – the Asian population transfer rate is 39 percent, a number consistently lower than the 42.3 percent average for all other groups at Middlesex, government data shows. When interviewed, many spoke about how stressed and isolated they felt.

This is where universities’ multicultural centres come into the picture.

These centres are a common feature in many universities throughout the country. For many Asian students struggling to transition into the American way of life, these places serve as a crucial lifeline or at the very least, help stem feelings of homesickness.

The University of Oregon’s Multicultural Center aspires to be “where all students would be welcomed to meet, plan, and help with educating the community about diversity”. From organising hip-hop concerts to educational and cultural workshops, the centre serves as a converging spot for international students to encourage collaboration and foster positive relationships.

At Middlesex, the Asian American Connections Center plays an even more serious role. In addition to academic and financial aid, this is where Southeast Asian students go to alleviate some of the consequences that arise from issues like poverty and post-traumatic stress.

Virak Uy, Director of the Program for Asian American Student Advancement at Middlesex, organised a screening of “First They Killed My Father”; a film by Angelina Jolie about a young Cambodian girl’s experience during the Khmer Rouge genocide. During the panel discussion, Uy managed to start a dialogue about the subject with the students, something some have never had with their very own family members.

“How do we talk about the killing fields and how are we aware of students in our classroom who might have some PTSD? It’s having a larger awareness of this population,” said Pamela Flaherty, Chief Student Affairs Officer and Dean of Students at Middlesex.

Though many other Asian university students do not have such traumatic pasts, they could still benefit from making use of their school’s multicultural centres. It’s not the most ideal situation at the moment, with many universities hosting the token international week which focuses on superficial elements like food and fashion, while making international students feel invisible to the rest of the campus population most of the time.

But many still provide a physical location where Asian students can seek help with English, assignments, visas, financial aid, etc. At the very least, these schools should offer a place with services and resources targeted more towards Asian and other international students.

And if more universities emphasised their multicultural centres, both the school and struggling Asian students could better capitalise on these spaces. Perhaps then, they could really work towards building a more diverse and inclusive higher education sphere in America.

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