Misrepresented & Underserved: AAPI Students in Community College

By Arielle Del Rosario

Popular media sources and the general public have influenced the way in which Asian-American Pacific Islander students are portrayed. As a model minority, they are considered “hard-working and academically successful students” (Lew, Chang, & Wang 2005).  Although this stereotype may seem to be a positive portrayal of AAPI students, it fails to acknowledge socioeconomic and education disparities of certain communities. Essentially, this model minority myth was created to perpetuate racism, social inequality, and institutional discrimination that people of color face. In reality, AAPI students are just as misrepresented1 and underserved2 as other minority groups and perhaps even more-so, especially those enrolled in two-year institutions.

How are ­AAPI students misrepresented? Due to the model minority myth and other common stereotypes, AAPI students are represented as the majority minority in selective four-year institutions. Therefore, Asian students contradict the concept that the education system (and other institutions) are prejudice against minority groups because Asians are successful. Unfortunately, AAPI students only represent 6% of the national college population and 40% of those students attend community colleges. The statistics used to evaluate Asians are aggregated; including East, Southeast, Indian, Pakistani Asians, and Pacific Islanders. However, these groups are significantly  diverse in their: ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and immigration background, all of which impact their educational experiences. Essentially, the model minority myth is a misrepresentation of AAPI students because it fails to highlight the diversity of the AAPI population.

How are AAPI students underserved? Along with being misrepresented, AAPI students are notably underserved at their community colleges. Black and Latino students have historically received institutional support such as “Black colleges and universities, [Latino] serving institutions, and minority serving institutions” (Lew 2005). At the same time, many AAPI students are ignored by their institutions because they are depicted as model students who do not need support systems.

Contrary to the model minority myth, many Asian students suffer financially, academically, and psychologically. For instance, “40% of Laotian and Cambodian Americans in the United States live below the poverty rate” (Lew 2005), yet Asian students are less likely to receive financial aid because they are depicted as middle to upper class. These socioeconomic circumstances and financial burdens notoriously hinder academic achievement. Colleges also fail to provide services or information in the languages of nearby Asian communities, many of which have a large portion of English as a Second Language (ESL) or first generation students. Rather than being supportive, ESL instructors perceive AAPI students as academically lacking because of the language barrier. Lastly, these students face other psychological challenges and obstacles such as: acculturation, social isolation, and subtle discrimination. For example, many Southeast Asian refugee students, forced to leave their countries due to war, political oppression, or religious persecution, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, many of these students are culturally inhibited from seeking help from counselors and suffer psychologically. Despite popular beliefs and stereotypes, community colleges can no longer marginalize a large population of AAPI students who lack access to financial, academic, or psychological support. 

So, what can be done? In order to better represent and serve AAPI students, community colleges need to propose more research and institutionalized support systems within academia. For starters, more disaggregated data3 and research needs to be done for AAPI students so that colleges can better understand their unique experiences and needs. In doing this, the data and research will help to criticize the model minority identity and help Asians develop their own identities. In addition, community colleges need to take responsibility of these students by offering campus resources geared towards Asian American Pacific Islander students. Overall, these suggestions will improve the experiences of AAPI students by validating their unique experiences so that no minority group is neglected or forgotten.

(1) Misrepresent: Give a false or misleading account of the nature of
(2) Underserve: To offer inadequate services or facilities to other populations which are disadvantaged
(3) Disaggregated data: Numerical data that has been broken down into smaller parts. Looking at the data of the AAPI population through their diversity (i.e., ethnic backgrounds)

Lew, Chang, & Wang (2005). “The Overlooked Minority: Asian Pacific American Students at Community Colleges”. UCLA Community College Review.


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