UW reinstates Southeast Asian recruiter position — Public backlash contributed to decision

By Zachariah Bryan
Northwest Asian Weekly

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From left to right, Chief Diversity Officer Sheila Edwards Lange, President Michael Young, Provost Ana Mari Cauce, UW Board of Regents, Constance Rice, UW Board of Regents, State Sen. Bob Hasegawa. (Photo by Zachariah Bryan/NWAW)

When University of Washington (UW) President Michael Young met with representatives of the Asian and Pacific Islander community, he brought good news.

They would reinstate the Southeast Asian recruiter position, permanently and part-time.

“I am grateful for this opportunity because I think this is a larger issue than just a recruiter,” Young said. “I think this dialogue, which has proceeded in fits and starts, has an opportunity to position us to really move forward with a really enhanced understanding of what the needs of the community are, so we can serve them.”

It was a big win for people of the API community and UW students who had been pushing for the reinstatement since the position was discontinued back in January. The Southeast Asian recruiter was initially described as a part-time, temporary position and lasted just one year.

But proponents were under the assumption that the UW had been actively seeking funding to make it permanent before it was cut.

ACRS Executive Director Diane Narasaki said it was important to fund the position, but not at the cost of serving other populations in need.

“Many of the other populations are suffering great disparity and we don’t want to see any funding taken away from those populations that are already being served. In fact, we think there needs to be more resources to serve them,” she said.

University administration did not comment on how the position would be funded.

Chief Diversity Officer Sheila Edwards Lange said that they would not stop at just the recruiter position. The UW will also turn its attention toward student retention, for Southeast Asians and for Asian and Pacific Islanders in general. She said that the UW will create a team to focus on the issue by adding two new positions and enlisting the aid of an advisory board.

“That degree is what allows them to go back out to become leaders,” she said. “We definitely want them to graduate. Having them come to campus and not graduate not only hurts them, but hurts everyone in the community.”

Narasaki argued that the university should not stop at increasing student access and retention.
“We think it’s very important that the university not only include our community as students, but also that the university leadership structure reflects our community as well,” she said.

If there were greater representation of the API community on UW leadership, Narasaki argued, the recruiter issue wouldn’t have had to escalate as much as it did.

“It would have been great if we could’ve resolved this much earlier,” she said.

Young shot back that there are two chancellors and one dean from the Asian community. He also noted that there are people from other minority groups in UW’s leadership.

“We do have fairly robust representation,” he said.

Young and Lange acknowledged that this was just the beginning of a much longer conversation. They agreed to meet with the Asian and Pacific Islander community again sometime in the future to discuss the issues further.

Solid Ground Advocacy Director Tony Lee noted that promoting and uplifting diversity was an important task for the university to undertake.

“This is not just about this recruiter position. This is kind of symbolic of a much larger issue, and I would say this issue goes to the root of what is the mission of the University of Washington,” Lee said. “Is it to serve a narrower and narrower slice of the population, which tends to be white, which tends to be affluent? Or will it continue to serve, as it has in the past, the broad diverse communities in our state? To us, this is a very important question.”

Ay Saechao, founder of the Southeast Asian American Access in Education Coalition, said that the Southeast Asian community was in great need and that it was vital that the UW help them.

“Everybody here probably knows someone in their family or community who did not succeed, or who dropped out of college, or who did not make it to college,” he said. (end)

Zachariah Bryan can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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