Monday, February 08, 2010

Why? Three Theories on why Pacific Islanders are Excluded from Academic Programs for Underrepresented Minorities

Each of the previous blogs have described the problem the PIA project is focused on - the exclusion of Pacific Islanders from academic programs for underrepresented minorities, and how this makes it harder for Pacific Islanders to end their own underrepresentation - so the problem is clear. However, it is fair to ask why this is occurring at all. Why are Pacific Islander excluded from academic programs for underrepresented minorities when they are an underrepresented minority?

Three Theories: Why Pacific Islanders are Excluded

1.) Population

Because we are a smaller population: The fact that the Pacific Islander American population is much smaller than included underrepresented minority groups could be a big factor in their exclusion. Also, while Pacific Islanders live in every State of the Union, over half of the population live in just two states: California and Hawaii. The fact that their smaller population is highly concentrated could mean that for many decision makers, Pacific Islanders are out of sight and out of mind.

2.) The Myth of "Asian Pacifics"

Because we're lumped in with Asians, who aren't underrepresented: Another possible cause is the outdated practice of lumping Pacific Islanders with Asians to form the "Asian Pacific", "Asian Pacific Islander" or "Asian and Pacific Islander" category. Because Asians and Pacific Islanders are different in many respects - especially when it comes to higher education issues - lumping the two groups together does a disservice to anyone honestly trying to understand these two distinct racial groups. Moreover, because Asians greatly outnumber Pacific Islander Americans (approximately 15 to 1), any stats on "Asian Pacifics" largely reflects Asians, not Pacific Islanders. (I'll go into detail on this in a future post.)

3.) Pacific Islander Americans: A Silent Minority

Because we haven't come together on this issue: The size and concentration of the Pacific Islander American community, along with the way Pacific Islander issues are hidden behind the "Asian Pacific" lumping, are certainly both factors in their exclusion from academic programs. After all, if these programs:
  • Don't know Pacific Islanders exist, or

  • They don't know that unlike Asians, Pacific Islanders are underrepresented...

...then of course these programs wouldn't include Pacific Islanders with African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indian and Alaska Natives. But the fact is that we do exist, and we are underrepresented, so that begs the question: why haven't we spoken up? Why is it that while a few Pacific Islanders have spoken out on this issue, there hasn't been a community-wide movement?

I welcome your answers to this question. I have my own ideas, but to be honest, instead of getting stuck on why it hasn't happened yet, I'd like us to turn our focus to making it happen. But in order to do that, we need to communicate with each other, with our friends, and with the people who set the policies at academic programs for underrepresented minorities.

Our next post will focus on our future allies: the underrepresented minority academic programs that currently exclude Pacific Islanders.


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