Saturday, August 04, 2012

2004 Study on Pacific Islander Access to Academic Programs for Underrepresented Minorities

Growing up as a Native Hawaiian in Hawaii, I didn't need to be told that my community was less represented among college graduates and less likely to "succeed" by many standards.  But when I attended college on the mainland, I was exposed to new facts and a strange idea: first, I learned about the hard stats on the underrepresentation of all Pacific Islanders, Native Hawaiians included.

The strange idea? I was told by a well-intentioned executive at a program for underrepresented minorities that, according to their policy, "Hawaiians are Pacific Islanders, and Pacific Islanders are Asian/Pacific Islanders... and Asian Pacific Islanders are not underrepresented." By that logic, Native Hawaiians weren't underrepresented... even though we were.  

As a McNair Scholar, I was blessed with the resources to conduct a year-long quantitative study to delve into this question: on a national level, did scholarships and fellowships for underrepresented minorities realize that Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders were underrepresented?  

I found that, overwhelmingly, the answer was no.  The following data represents the findings from my national sample.

2004 findings on Pacific Islander access to scholarships and fellowships for underrepresented minorities
  • 21 percent recognized that Pacific Islanders were underrepresented
  • 64 percent excluded Pacific Islanders from definition of underrepresented
  • 15 percent recognized some Pacific Islander sub-groups, but excluded others
I was shocked by this information, but I was also excited about the opportunity to raise awareness.  I published my findings in the McNair Journal; won a series of research awards for my study; wrote guest columns in national and international niche publications; and helped a Hawaii State legislator draft a Resolution that was adopted by the State House of Representatives.  In every one of those areas, I was successful, but I felt like a failure in the most important area: the underrepresented minority programs seemed to be maintaining their policies of excluding Pacific Islanders. 

As I've told you in my personal story about why the P.I.A. project matters to me, this was my motivation to found this nonprofit: to raise awareness about Pacific Islander underrepresentation in higher education, in order to reduce -- and someday eliminate -- our exclusion from academic programs for underrepresented minorities.

2004 was eight years ago, so it's fair to ask: Are Pacific Islanders still excluded from most academic programs for underrepresented minorities?  Have the programs made progress in recognizing Pacific Islander underrepresentation?

The Pacific Islander Access project has pondered those questions, and this summer we completed an updated national study.  Next week I'll tell you our findings.


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