Sunday, March 25, 2012

P.I.A. project Board Member Stories: Lorinda

Aloha! Osiyo!  My name is Lorinda Riley. That's right, just like Kawika.  He let me used it after we got married.  :)  

I have the privilege of serving as the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Legal Counsel at the P.I.A. project, as well as one of the founding board members.  I've been involved in the P.I.A. project since nearly the beginning. In fact, I remember when Kawika first told me about the exclusion of Pacific Islanders from academic programs for underrepresented minorities . . .  in fact, it was while we were on a date! It wasn’t long after that conversation that I reflected upon my own experiences and decided to join the effort.

Even though I grew up in Hawai'i, the severity of this issue barely registered with me while I was at home.  During my junior or senior year of high school I recall a heated discussion about which box to check on our college applications.  When I applied to the University of California, Los Angeles many of my friends suggested that I check the "Other" box instead of "Asian Pacific Islander" because under affirmative action (I was actually in the last class at UCLA to benefit from affirmative action) it was more difficult to get in if you checked the "Asian Pacific Islander" box instead of the "Other" box.  Well, I had an easy solution for that problem, because I'm also American Indian on my father's side, I checked the "American Indian" box.  I identify very strongly with being American Indian.  I am affiliated with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and I decided long before college applications came around that whenever I needed to self-identify I would check off "American Indian."

Unfortunately, my simple work-around pretty much ensured that an adequate impression of the problem was not made on me.  It took many years of education - both formal and informal - for me to grasp the dire consequences of the misclassification of Pacific Islanders.  Not only are Pacific Islanders underrepresented, but under this current system they are facing additional barriers to accessing higher education.  The result is that Pacific Islanders continue to be underrepresented and will likely fall further behind unless programs targeting underrepresented minorities are opened up to them.

Education has opened up many doors for me.  And as I alluded to earlier, I benefited from many programs geared towards underrepresented minorities.  They provided me with the support that I needed to become a high achieving student and professional.  Pacific Islanders, like American Indians, are underrepresented in higher education. The fact that I could qualify for certain scholarship and benefits for underrepresented minorities and Kawika (as a Native Hawaiian) would not qualify is inequitable.  Perhaps it is because of my legal background, but this inequity offends me and I want to change it.  The P.I.A. project will continue to educate institutions of higher education and programs targeting underrepresented minorities about Pacific Islander underrepresentation and the choices available to them to expand their programs to reach an equally deserving group of underrepresented minority students. 

Lorinda, Chief Legal Counsel and Financial Officer

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