Posted May 18, 2020 — As a Filipino American majoring in kinesiology, Danielle Heebner decided to diversify her coursework at the University of Houston by minoring in Asian American studies.
“I think it’s awesome how everybody can come together to learn more about Asian American culture and life and how discrimination has impacted the Asian American community,” she said.
UH’s Asian American Studies Center, housed in the College of Education, works to enhance these multicultural learning experiences and will continue to do so with a new $400,000 grant from the Office of the Provost, said center director Yali Zou. The grant will expand mentorship, research and community engagement activities to support all students and local residents interested in Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander issues in higher education.
“It is critical for students at the University of Houston to have opportunities to learn about other cultures from around the world. This especially is important in Houston, one of the most diverse regions in the nation," said UH Provost Paula Myrick Short. “Developing insight into global affairs helps our students become more empowered world citizens.”
The effort comes at a time when Asian American and Pacific Islander students are particularly vulnerable and need additional support as the COVID-19 pandemic has inflamed anti-Asian sentiments. About 21 percent of the student population at UH is Asian American.
“The program is a timely, much needed initiative,” said Zou, University Endowed Professor for Global Leadership Studies.
Nearly 1,500 reports of hate incidents against Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. were reported over four weeks after starting in mid-March, according to the STOP AAPI HATE initiative.
With the funding, Zou said the center will address students’ needs by launching a mentorship program to provide emotional, social and academic support. The center also will help organize and sponsor research and community engagement activities to emphasize the unique challenges Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islanders face.
“The grant will expand students’ knowledge about the Houston multicultural community and cultivate student confidence,” Zou said.
Like Heebner, Stephen Yuen, a Chinese American history major, said the Asian American studies minor in the College of Education has given him important knowledge and insight.
“The program provides me with an in-depth understanding of Asian American history that I would not learn from other history classes,” Yuen said. “Knowing Asian history gives me a better perspective of how to work with other Asian groups to fight for our political rights.”
Heebner hopes the grant will lead to more classes and opportunities to learn about Asian American experiences. And Yuen wishes to see more lectures on often-overlooked Asian minorities such as Hmong, Cambodians and Laotians.
Although events are now either virtual or postponed in accordance with social distancing, Zou wants Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander students to know they are not alone.
“I just want Asian American students to help each other and be safe,” Zou said. “If they need any help, they can reach out. We will be here at the University to support them mentally, educationally and financially through this difficult time.”
— By Lillian Hoang
— Photo by Tiana Dockery