Addressing Asian American/Pacific Islander College Students’ Mental Health Needs
In May 2021, amidst increasing reports of anti-Asian hate crimes, the Steve Fund and the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan convened a group of 8 experts in Asian American/Pacific Islander history, college students, and mental health. The group proposes that colleges and universities adopt the following structural recommendations, in an effort to better support their Asian American college student community. We note that both Pacific Islander American students and international students may share in similar stressors with the Asian American student community, however there are significant differences between these student communities. We emphasize that Pacific Islander American and international students be thoughtfully understood as groups with separate histories, racial experiences, and/or sociocultural identities. For example, Pacific Islander American students experience distress as related to their Asian and Indigenous identities and histories, and international students experience distress as related to their nuanced acculturative transitions to the U.S. For the purposes of our recommendations, we have aggregated these groups, but we stress specific understanding of these varying communities.
First, colleges and universities should elevate the cultural competence of the university at large, emphasizing mental health as an essential component of the college experience. These efforts should be meaningfully coordinated with existing competency efforts aimed at supporting and affirming Black/African American, Indigenous, and Latino/a/x student communities, such that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programming and goals be directed at large-scale institutional transformation and coalition-building, rather than siloed between communities. In practice, it will be necessary for student support services (e.g. counseling and psychological services, advising, financial aid, career services, tutoring/writing centers, the registrar, and other administrative services) to be aware of AAPI student needs. To ensure accurate identification of needs across this particularly diverse group, it is also imperative that institutional data about AAPI students be disaggregated. These initiatives will facilitate a culture of holistic wellness that benefits all students.
Second, colleges and universities should conduct an ongoing evaluation of AAPI Student needs as informed by AAPI experts. To do this, they should begin by gathering a team with existing knowledge of AAPI communities to tailor an assessment tool that accurately measures need. By disaggregating the data and being intentional about recruiting all students of Asian and Pacific Islander descent (including the many who do not label or identify themselves as AAPI), institutions will ensure a more accurate and specific understanding of their AAPI student community.
And third, institutions should provide physical and educational space for AAPI students to be known and affirmed. Specifically, they can provide courses and programming that focus on AAPI experiences and identities, as well as providing physical areas for students to gather. Hiring AAPI staff and faculty who actively engage with AAPI students would further provide mentorship, support, and visibility for this student community.
Expert Committee Members:
Linh An, Multilingual Learner Specialist for the Hunter College AANAPISI Project
Shyam Gadwal, Vice President of Programs at APIA Scholars
Marcia Liu, Hunter College AANAPISI Project Mental Health Specialist
Sam Museus, Professor of Education Studies at UC San Diego
Anmol Satiani, Assistant Director for Clinical Training at DePaul University
Ian Shin, Assistant Professor of History and American Culture at the University of Michigan
Marie Ting, Associate Director of National Center for Institutional Diversity
Sasha Zhou, Assistant Professor of Public Health at Wayne State University
Read the full recommendations here and view our Anti-Asian Hate & the Mental Health Crisis Webinar.