For South Seattle, model minority myth is busted

By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly

What is there to do with $2.4 million dollars? South Seattle Community College has decided to improve the success and retention rates of its Asian Pacific Islander students. South Seattle Community College is one of six two- and four-year institutions that the U.S. Department of Education designated as Asian American/Native American/Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI).

The other schools named were City College of San Francisco; University of Maryland, College Park; University of Hawaii at Hilo; Foothill-DeAnza Community College; and Guam Community College. Each school had an Asian American/Pacific Islander population of 10 percent or more.

“What it means, first of all, is that we have been approved by the Department of Education to develop best practices to help underrepresented Asian Pacific Islander students successfully complete their degree and transfer to a four-year school,” said vice president of student services Mark Mitsui. “With that comes the funding for two years to develop the initiative.”

South Seattle will receive $1.17 million its first year. After sending a progress report to the Department of Education, the school will receive an additional $1.24 million the second year.

Mitsui says the funds will be allocated to four areas. South Seattle plans to improve the API freshman experience through culturally relevant, family-connected orientations. They also plan to create clustered learning communities, increase transition from ESL/ELL classes to college courses and improve retention rates.

Mitsui said he hoped to develop an Asian American studies program at the college.

Kathie Pham, the Student Club Center coordinator and a former student, thinks this is a good idea.

“I think it’s important because people identify themselves differently,” Pham said. “There are so many types of ethnicities in (the Asian race). Not only are Asian American students going to be affected by this. We can educate the larger population as well.”

Pham was asked by Mitsui to come on board to offer a student’s perspective. She will suggest projects to be incorporated into the program.

“(There should be) a lot of hands-on and interactive projects with the community at large, especially in Seattle, since we need to bridge the generations,” she said. Mitsui proposes for South Seattle to utilize an API freshman experience program and a resource center to address the transition and retention rates. The freshman experience program will assist students in transferring from ESL to college courses.

Mitsui hopes this grant will break down some stereotypes of Asians and Pacific Islanders.

“You probably have heard of the model minority myth, and the significance of the grant is the acknowledgment of the impact of the model minority myth on API students in higher education,” he said. “The stereotype is that API students don’t struggle in college when, in fact, we know that many API students do struggle if they get in at all. What’s groundbreaking is that this is the very first time that the U.S. government has acknowledged this category of need in this type of college.

“We really are looking for first generation college attendees, which tend to be greater in number than 1.5 generation immigrant families,” Mitsui said.

Mitsui also explained that while the grant uses “Native American” in its name, it does not refer to Native Americans of the United States.

“I think that the term ‘Native American’ is incorporated because there’s a political movement among Pacific Islanders to associate with indigenous people,” he said. “It’s not really a Native American grant, but it’s an acknowledgement that the Pacific Islanders are the indigenous people of the Pacific islands. There’s another category for Native American serving institutions.”

“I’m really excited about this, especially being an Asian American and a former student,” Pham said.

She said students on campus are not too aware of the grant yet.

“It’s going to be huge,” she said. “I hope, first and foremost, they make the students knowledgeable (of this grant) on campus. I’m really excited about that.” ♦

Ninette Cheng can be reached at

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