Higher Ed in the News: 4/12

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash.

This week, we get an inside look on what Asian American student groups are doing to improve inclusion on their campuses and also the latest on vaccine requirements at schools. You can read the last edition of this series here: on generation differences and Title IX.

Hearing from Asian American student leaders

Student groups across the country are rallying for improvements to the academic experience and culture in the interest of Asian American inclusion.

At Vanderbilt University, the Asian American Students Association wrote an open letter to school leadership, expressing disappointment about the lack of response from the school to the recent shootings in Atlanta targeting Asian American victims. They called for discussions on how to move forward, and offered some recommendations.

“Create Asian American-studies courses and an Asian American and diaspora studies program. Start and staff an inter-Asian center that would run community events for Asian-identifying students. Hire an Asian American psychologist in the university’s counseling center,” Francie Diep wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Diep also noted that in some schools these demands have been ongoing since at least the early 2000s.

The Intercollegiate Asian Pacific Islander Desi American group shared a statement and set of recommendations of its own. A student group at Duke University shared a timeline of racial bias incidents affecting Asian Americans.

Diep writes poignantly about the way Asian Americans experience a “unique racialized position in American society and within higher education.” The model minority myth, a perception that all Asian Americans are well off, suited for academic success, and don’t experience violent racism, leads Asian American students to feel “invisible to their universities.” 

A very diverse group that spans the largest continent on the globe and the nationalities and cultures of over twenty different countries requires a much more nuanced approach to equity and inclusion than is currently being made. For example, despite high educational attainment on average for the large umbrella of Asian Americans, certain sub-groups are underrepresented, Diep notes.

The shooting in Atlanta proved what many Asian Americans already knew: they are targets for racialized violence and also disproportionately blocked from academic and professional advancement by structural racism. Universities and leaders across higher education need to recognize this glaring need and the extent to which it has been ignored for decades.

Colleges counting on vaccines to resume campus life

Colleges across the country are encouraging students to get vaccinated before the end of the spring session in an effort to make campuses safer and prepare for a widespread return to in-person instruction in the fall. 

According to a recent article from Higher Ed Dive, some states are currently allowing anyone over the age of 16 to get their shot(s), making their college-age students eligible as a result. On the other hand, schools in states with lingering age limitations are steering them to facilities with leftover vaccines that run the risk of expiring if not used.

Universities certainly have a financial motivation to help their students obtain vaccinations, as reopening campuses means increased enrollment revenue among other positive outcomes, but students will benefit as well. In addition to being protected from the virus, perks include being excused from mandatory testing for COVID-19, returning to dorms, and participating in campus activities in person. Despite guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention dictating otherwise, some schools may even let students who have received the vaccine to ignore the mask mandate as long as they wear a designated “pin or bracelet signifying they’ve been fully vaccinated.”

While doing away with COVID-related protocols is likely to raise student morale and improve the grim financial situation many colleges currently find themselves in, concerns remain regarding the effect these relaxed policies could have. Colleges are also worried that local populations in the towns and cities they call home could fail to achieve sufficient inoculation levels and put their students in danger. For these reasons, schools will be tracking the vaccination progress of their student body and monitoring local community statistics to help decide if masks, social distancing, and other precautions are in their best interest.