January 28, 2003

New Task Force Will Address Asian Issues

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In response to growing concern about issues relating to Asian and Asian-American students at Cornell, a task force has been created to address campus issues and provide services for these students.

The task force is co-chaired by Wai-Kwon Wong, counseling and psychological services at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services and Tanni Hall, associate dean of students. It includes a variety of Cornell students, faculty and staff.

Issues relating to and services for Asian and Asian-American students have gained interest in the past few years as a response to bias-related incidences, concerns over adequate programming for Asian and Asian-American students and statistics showing that since 1996, six out of the 13 suicides committed at Cornell have been committed by Asian male students.

According to Mr. Wong, these and other issues provoked the task force’s creation. “The task force has been brewing for a while,” he said.

The task force has been thoughtful in its organization of members and goals. According to Wong, “a fair amount of time was spent figuring out who we are and what we want to do.”

Currently, the task force is involved in a needs-assessment process, surveying students and staff about what they deem to be the most important issues. “What we decided was that we needed to base action and recommendations on actual data,” Wong said.

According to Wong, the task force has begun talking to members of each of the colleges at Cornell. Additionally, student and alumni responses to surveys are being examined to identify the most pressing issues. Wong said that the assessment of students’ needs is important because many of the issues that are uncovered may affect other students as well.

“A lot of the issues we will come up with will not be unique to Asian populations,” he said.

Wong said that one of the challenges facing Asian and Asian-American students is their label as a “model minority” because of the size of their population at Cornell and academic stereotypes made about them.

According to a statement made by Susan Murphy, vice president for Student and Academic Affairs, students of Asian descent comprise 14 percent of the total student body, 16 percent of all undergraduates and 55 percent of all international students.

“Despite the model minority stereotype, Asian and Asian-American students are just like everyone else,” Wong said.

Wong said that he hoped the task force would be able to help Cornell “acknowledge the diversity of the population” of Asian and Asian-American students at the University, and “get a snapshot of this extremely diverse community.”

Additionally, Wong said that the task force would like to issue a report of their needs-assessment results.

According to Raymond Dalton, executive director for the Office of Minority Educational Affairs, in order to assess the needs of Asian and Asian-American students, research about students’ families and family structure must also be conducted.

“We’re not only going to learn about students,” he said. Dalton said that because of this fact, “getting information is going to be a challenge … we’re going to have to cross some bridges.”

Dalton said that he hoped more services for Asian and Asian-American students would be the result of the task force’s undertakings. “There are students with needs that perhaps the services in the colleges don’t address,” he said.

Daniel Keh ’03, president of the Korean Students Association, said that he became even more concerned with issues facing Asian and Asian-American students after learning about Elizabeth Shin, a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Shin, after seeking counseling for problems she was having in school, committed suicide in her dorm room. The case raised issues nationally about the responsibilities universities have towards students.

“Cornell happens to be one of those schools where suicide is a myth,” Keh said. Keh also said that he thinks “the University is becoming more sensitive” to the issues of responsibility for its students and their well-being.

Angie Kim ’03, a member of the task force and a communications major, chose to write her thesis on the possible reasons for the dissatisfaction that Asian and Asian-American students feel and the possible reasons for students’ not wanting to get help when presented with a problem.

“I wanted to figured out if there is something with the communication patterns Asian students have that would prevent them from reaching out or speaking out,” she said.

Both Keh and Kim have worked together on the task force and they recently attended a conference in New York City where they had the opportunity to talk to other Asian and Asian-American students from other universities.

“We met students from Harvard, Brown and U Penn. We wanted to present this topic to them and our conclusion after this discussion was that this was a very Cornell-oriented problem. We thought that other schools might be having the same problems or students might be dealing with the same issues or questioning the same types of things,” Kim said.

According to Keh, however, “they couldn’t relate to what we were talking about; they had no idea.”

Keh and Kim both acknowledged the dissatisfaction that Asian and Asian-American students were feeling with the University, saying that they have seen such attitudes in classmates.

“Cornell is losing out on a lot … they don’t have that connection with the school,” Keh said.

Kim agreed, saying that when students are unhappy with the University and their college experience, “a sense of pride and loving Cornell is gone.”

Keh and Kim also both acknowledged the “model minority myth” and said that living up to the expectations that society, gender and, to some extent, family can place on a student can cause situations in which students feel unable to seek help.

“You can’t mess up, you’re always expected to do well,” Kim said.

According to Keh, this spring the Korean Students Association will be hosting a conference where 500 to 1000 students from various universities will meet to discuss issues facing Korean and Korean-American students.

“One of our program topics will be the model minority myth,” Keh said.

Keh and Kim said that the University should pay attention to this issue, and provide more services for students of Asian descent, while understanding the cultural background and values of the group.

According to Keh, “looking beyond the whole minority scene, this is an issue the whole University has to care a lot about.” He added, “I love Cornell and I want to make Cornell a better place.”

Michelle Wong ’05 became involved with the task force after working with the Campus Life Office of Student Affairs and Diversity. Ms. Wong said that she was affected first and foremost after learning about the suicides committed by students of Asian descent at Cornell.

“No one really knows about [the suicides],” Wong said.

Also, Wong said that she became concerned by surveys completed by Asian and Asian-American students. “There had been some surveys completed, and empirical things gathered … they [Asian and Asian-American students] just weren’t as satisfied as other students with their Cornell experience.”

Currently, Wong is looking at alumni surveys to see if there is a pattern of experiences among Asian and Asian-American alumni. Wong said that “with the task force underway, we want to get a survey out. We want to work with a lot of st
udent organizations to get their input on what they feel problems are and from these focus groups set up interviews and forums.”

According to Wong, the task force would be “using a survey as a stepping stool to make our agenda for the next couple of years.”

Wong said that the task force is particularly important to her because “being a member of the community of concern, its personally affects me as well.”

Wong is hopeful about the future of the task force and the increased attention to the issues facing Asian and Asian-American students. “In the past couple years, a lot has been done to try to reach out to the Asian and Asian American population,” she said, citing counseling services which pay attention to the needs of these students and the recent interest in establishing a community center in addition to the resource center already available to students.

“I cant even imagine the possibilities of what could be done by the time I graduate,” she added.

Archived article by Kate Cooper