May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time for us to celebrate the accomplishments of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPIs) and their contributions to this great nation. This year’s theme for the month is “I am Beyond,” which captures the aspirations of the American spirit and how Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have always sought to excel beyond the challenges that have limited equal opportunity in America.
As chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, it is important that I hear directly from AANHPI leaders who work with our students and their families every day. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet with community leaders who came from as far as Guam and Hawaii to discuss important issues that face AANHPI students around the country and in the Insular Areas. I was honored to have many key leaders at the Department of Education who have made working with AAPI populations a critical part of their work.
I heard important updates and requests on data disaggregation, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), bullying and harassment, English Language Learners, boys and young men of color through the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, and native languages and culture-based education. Leaders emphasized that aggregated AANHPI data mask critical issues such as the alarmingly low college graduation rates for Southeast Asian Americans (12 percent of Laotian, 14 percent of Cambodian, and 26 percent of Vietnamese American populations) and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders at 14.8 percent. I also heard about the high rates of bullying and harassment in these communities and that the Department could be helpful by helping raise awareness of AANAPISIs as Minority-Serving Institutions.
Knowing how important these issues are, I committed to continuing the conversations beyond this roundtable discussion, to explain our position on many issues, and to learn from the community on how the Department can improve our efforts to ensure equity for all. Members of the Education team will continue to meet with the AAPI community in the upcoming weeks and months to work on these issues, and I look forward to an update at the end of the year.
With the support of the Initiative, we have made progress on many of these issues, but we have more work ahead as we strive to improve educational experiences for AANHPI students.
Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education and Chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.