A Convening of Minds: Scholarly Collaboration Toward a National AANAPISI Research Agenda

By Bach Mai Dolly Nguyen, Jacqueline Mac, Nicolas W.K.S. Lee, Yeejsuab Lee, Thai-Huy Nguyen

A group of AANAPISI scholars, practitioners, and community organizers gathered at the University of Michigan to explore opportunities and strategies to develop, support, and sustain a national AANAPISI research agenda (October 4–5, 2018)

This year marks the 10 year-anniversary of the emergence of Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), one of eight types of federally designated minority serving institutions (MSIs). AANAPISIs received designation status in 2007 through the College Cost Reduction and Access Act and expanded funding in 2008 under the reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act. To receive AANAPISI grant funding, institutions must enroll at least 10 percent undergraduate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students and at least 50 percent of the student population must receive federal financial assistance, such as Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Federal Work Study, and/or the Federal Perkins Loans. Because AANAPISIs typically serve high concentrations of low-income AAPI students in higher education, these institutions represent a counter narrative to the dominant misconceptions that our society holds about AAPI students. The misconceptions are anchored in the model minority myth, the belief that all AAPI students are universally successful and do not need educational support, which perpetuates the homogenization of AAPIs, overshadows the rich diversity within the group, and thus, the unique needs that emerge for specific ethnic sub-groups (e.g. Pacific Islanders and Southeast Asians). The AANAPISI designation and funding are significant steps toward better serving the overlooked needs of low-income AAPI students and establishing programs and services that are responsive to their communities. However, due to its relatively recent emergence, research on AANAPISIs is limited. As we look forward to the next ten years of the designation, there is much to be considered for gaining greater traction in the research arena.

On October 4–5, 2018, a group of AANAPISI scholars, practitioners, and community organizers gathered at the University of Michigan to explore opportunities and strategies to develop, support, and sustain a national AANAPISI research agenda. Sponsored by the National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) and the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good, with generous funding by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, experts on AANAPISIs sought to:

  1. Build greater collective understanding of how AANAPISIs support and impact student success;
  2. Provide time for sharing current projects and future work related to AANAPISIs; and
  3. Consider the future of AANAPISI research, with specific attention to opportunities for collaboration.

The convening began with a conversation on the personal and professional challenges related to conducting research on AANAPISIs, leading to empirical and conceptual gaps in the literature, and finally, moving to future lines of inquiry for extending AANAPISI scholarship. The focus on scholarship was intentional, as research, including both empirical and assessment, is inextricably linked to informing MSI leaders, specifically AANAPISI leaders, on how best to promote change at their institutions. As the discussion evolved over the course of two days, two major products emerged from the convening: (1) a collection of current and emerging scholarship on AANAPISIs to inform future partnerships, and (2) a list of key research questions to guide the future of AANAPISI research.

Regarding the first outcome, there is now a working resource guide (forthcoming) — sponsored by the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions — that traces the history of AANAPISI research, beginning with publications documenting the historical emergence of the designation, and ending with the most recent empirical research showing the impact of AANAPISI programs on student success. This document serves as a collective point of departure for future studies on AANAPISIs. The second outcome was the result of a robust conversation about the establishment of “guiding principles” for conducting AANAPISI research. The principles, which are forthcoming, are meant to encourage researchers to consider the historical context of conducting research with MSIs. We contend that future scholarship on AANAPISIs should be a collective endeavor that can be anchored in these two resources.

At any given moment, there are AANAPISI scholars conducting research in California, up in the Pacific Northwest, down in Texas, or over in New England. There are practitioners managing programs in Chicago, Hilo, and the Twin Cities, and there are policy advocates and community organizers in Washington, DC, and all across the nation and in the Pacific Islands. Distance aside, the many demands of research, practice, and advocacy inhibit the ability to think cooperatively and progress collectively. When given the opportunity to push pause on individual projects, however, it was possible to take stock of what has been achieved in the past ten years, consider what gaps remain, and project forward the future possibilities for research, advocacy, and community.

This AANAPISIs blog series — including this first piece — is one example of the fruits of the convening. Bringing together new and advanced graduate students, practitioners, and faculty, these contributions demonstrate how AANAPISI research and practice can cut across distance, generations, areas of interest, and expertise in order to produce new knowledge with an orientation toward collaboration in scholarship. As an MSI that continues to push against the misconceptions of AAPI students, it is critical that scholars and practitioners move forward in unison, overcoming the tensions that often emerge and, sometimes, stall scholarly work. Through this series, we sustain the momentum that emerged from this national convening and publicly invite those — especially emerging scholars and leaders, national associations, and foundations — who are committed to this collective endeavor to engage and work with us. AANAPISIs are a relatively young phenomenon in the scholarly literature. Let’s use this moment then to build a foundation that will inspire more critically driven work on AANAPISIs — will you join us?

Bach Mai Dolly Nguyen is an assistant professor of education at Oregon State University. Her research examines inequality in educational opportunity, with particular attention to racial stratification, racial heterogeneity, and organizational change. She is a member of the Diversity Scholars Network at the National Center for Institutional Diversity.

Jacqueline Mac is a research associate for the National Institute for Transformation and Equity. She is interested in understanding student and facilitator experiences in intergroup dialogue, impact of diversity education interventions, and inclusive environments in higher education.

Nicolas W.K.S. Lee is a graduate student in the MEd Student Development Administration program and a graduate assistant for the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Seattle University.

Yeejsuab Lee is a graduate student in the MA in Student Affairs Administration at Lewis & Clark and a graduate assistant for a Spencer-funded AANAPISI grant with Drs. Bach Mai Dolly Nguyen and Thai-Huy Nguyen.

Thai-Huy Nguyen is an assistant professor of education at Seattle University. His interests are anchored in racial minority student achievement in STEM education, workforce diversity, and minority serving institutions. Dr. Nguyen is a member of the Diversity Scholars Network at the National Center for Institutional Diversity.

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