Colleges benefit from diversity and inclusion, and by extension so do our communities. I’m always trying to keep an eye out for best practices, but especially for the Lao community, where we need to find a way to turn around our current college statistics. When 90% of us over 25 don’t have a bachelor’s degree or higher,compared to the statistics for the rest of the US, it’s not the end of the road, but we sure can see it from here.
How do we enocurage our different communities to work with colleges to get them to provide effective vision and leadership in designing, organizing, and developing a comprehensive, innovative program and services to help the personal, civic and academic growth of our students? What does a model program look like? Do we need to consider the possibility of completely redesigning our existing programs or can we revitalize them to make a real difference, going forward?
I had a chance to visit the Fresno City College, where there’s a high percentage of Hmong, Lao and other students from Southeast Asia. One of the programs they’ve implemented is their USEAA program, short for United Southeast Asian-Americans.
Established in the fall of 1999, the USEAA Academic Program is a joint USEAA Students collaboration between the English Department and the Counseling Center. It’s very similar to the PUENTE and SYMBAA programs the college has to meet special needs of Latino and African Americans. And all of them get results that make me wonder what more we can be offering our students in Minnesota and elsewhere.
The Fresno community feels that the USEAA works for the most part, and today it offers a combination of English and Guidance Study classes. The English classes are designed to help students learn effective reading, writing, analytic, and research skills. The guidance classes are designed to address study habits, career exploration and planning. These are definitely positive elements any student program should incorporate. They also bring in regular guest speakers to talk with the students on different issues.
During the year the USEAA counselor offers counseling support throughout the academic year. This means counseling at a personal, career, and academic level, working closely to identify what the student will need to transfer or get their proper certification for lifelong success. In some ways, I wonder how such a program would succeed if we included community counseling services. There’s a strong correlation between Lao students and previous volunteer and community service work and their presence in most colleges. What might happen if we had programs better suited to show how students can use various services to more directly benefit their community?
I’m a strong advocate for demystifying a campus for students, their families and their communities. I grew up in the shadow of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. I spent most of my formative weekends going to the various bookstores, restaurants, arcades and museums on the campus with my friends in our own way, on our own time. By the time I hit my senior year, the idea of attending college wasn’t a mystical notion but just came second-nature. It wasn’t something to be afraid of or deeply worried about. It was like signing up for selectie service or getting a driver’s license. You were just going to do it.
But as I work with so many other Lao households these days, it’s clear that many aren’t taking time to encourage their youth to see college spaces as something they should be a part of, especially our public institutions. They’re given very little time to just ‘hang out’ on or near a campus.
The USEAA model in Fresno also called for field trips to four-year university campuses. This is an approach we’ve all be advocating in almost every state. I wish there was more disaggregated data available about the quality of these experiences and the effectiveness of such tours. Personally, looking back I hated most of the college tours because many create the ooh and aah effect as efforts to recruit students to the college but it does very little to prepare the student for actual campus life. Everyone’s in a rush to see this building or that, but what do you really walk away with? “This college hasn’t invested in new carpet since 1980.” “This classroom is very big.”
I would hope instead students get a chance to take sample classes and see the teaching styles. That they could sit down with someone who just breaks down what they do in their field: Why they’re passionate about it, what keeps them in it. That can’t be done well with huge mobs of people. It’s ‘efficient’ but we need to look at the current ‘field trip’ model longitudinally and be honest about how well it’s really working for our youth.
Other services Fresno’s USEAA program provided focued on creating mentor and study support groups. This is important, but I firmly believe that we need to be more deliberate in the way we develop those services for our youth. Study groups can be helpful, but only if there are people who are reasonably well-versed in good study techniques. If you put together first-time students who’ve never graduated before in the same room and tell them to just study until they get good grades that’s no better than handing a lost person in the desert a map and then driving off without telling them which end is which. We’re not building capacity that way.
“Great. Instead of having a room with one student floundering around who can’t figure out the material, I’ve got a room full of a dozen of them.”
Educational Darwinism, trying to get the survival of the academic fittest, will prove to be a corrosive model for Lao and other Southeast Asian American students in most cases. Many of these youth are the first in their families, people who put a lot of their personal finances on the line to get a chance to break out of multigenerational poverty. Part of their tuition should be spent on developing programs that help them get the most out of that experience.
We need to do more to give our youth a chance to succeed. Not in the “everyone gets a gold star” kind of way, but to make sure that they get a fair chance and the resources to make up for what they might not have gotten in their high school or other parts of the system.
It’s tough out there, but as a community, we owe it to ourselves to build the best we can from what we’ve got.