COMMENTARY: Expand opportunities for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders

By Sefa Aina
For Northwest Asian Weekly

In February, President Obama launched his My Brother’s Keeper Initiative to expand opportunity for all young men and boys of color. This initiative builds upon collaboration between leading foundations and businesses to ensure that all young men and boys are able to achieve their full potential, regardless of their background.

As an educator who works closely with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) youth and students on a daily basis, I have seen firsthand the many challenges and barriers that young men and boys of color face. Low graduation rates and bullying are among these challenges. My Brother’s Keeper is an important step in furthering the president’s commitment to improving the quality of life and opportunities for all, including the AAPI community.

In order to work effectively to address the needs of young men and boys of color, we need to have compelling data — data that is disaggregated and detailed enough to illuminate the areas where the community’s needs are the greatest.

On March 21, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released the results of its 2011-2012 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). With data collected from every public school and school district across the country, the CRDC provides a detailed portrait of student equity and opportunity trends locally and nationwide for Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders (NHPIs).

The data is disaggregated by seven race and ethnicity categories, and this year marks the first time the CRDC has included data on NHPIs and multiracial students. The CRDC shows that during the study, 7 percent of NHPI boys received out-of-school suspensions, whereas only 3 percent of NHPI girls received out-of-school suspensions. In addition, in Mississippi, the out-of-school suspension rates for NHPI boys and girls reached 41 percent and 22 percent respectively.

With this new data, the CRDC joins the U.S. Department of Education’s “Higher Education: Gaps in Access and Persistence” study as an immensely important tool in shedding light on the experience of young men and boys in our communities.

The study, produced by the department’s National Center for Education Statistics, examines gaps in educational participation and attainment between males and females overall and within racial/ethnic groups. The report includes data on Asian Americans and NHPIs and looks at 46 indicators of important developments and trends in the education of males and females within and across specific racial/ethnic groups to explore the educational achievements and challenges of males and females.

The incredible opportunities presented by the CRDC and Higher Education study in addressing our community’s needs fuel a growing demand for greater data disaggregation. The data provided in these reports allow us to see a more complete snapshot of the daily needs and challenges our young men and boys face and are a great tool for school officials, federal agencies, policymakers, and educators.

Boys and young men of color of all backgrounds are disproportionately at risk from their youngest years through college and the early stages of their professional lives. The data presented in the CRDC and Higher Education study paint a complex picture of just how early we begin to see these risks.

By observing and understanding these risks, and addressing them through efforts like the president’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, we can work to overcome the challenges young men and boys of color face early on. (end)

Sefa Aina is Director of the Asian American Resource Center at Pomona College and vice chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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