UCLA Professor Gives Talk on Diversity in Higher Ed
Issue   |   Wed, 03/22/2017 - 01:05

Robert Teranishi, professor of social science and comparative education at the University of California, Los Angeles, gave a talk about diversity in higher education on Tuesday, March 21. Teranishi’s talk, titled “Call to Action: Leveraging the Power of Diversity to Achieve Academic Excellence,” focused on misunderstandings of Asian American and Pacific Islanders due to overgeneralized data.

Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones introduced Teranishi, who is a co-director for the Institute for Immigration, Globalization and Education and chair of Asian American studies at UCLA. He is also the principal investigator for the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE). His work has been cited in Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action and he has testified before Congress on acts regarding education. In 2015, he was appointed to the board of the Institute for Educational Sciences by former president Barack Obama.

Teranishi opened his talk by discussing the 2013 Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas on affirmative action. He moved on to a current suit against Harvard University by Students for Fair Admissions, an anti-affirmative action group that claims Harvard’s admissions process discriminates against Asian-American applicants.

The demographics of the country are changing, Teranishi said, especially among Asian Americans. He posed questions about what such changes mean for institutions like schools and businesses, especially in California. California’s population has shifted from predominantly white to predominantly nonwhite in the past 30 years.

Teranishi discussed efforts to clarify the differences among different AAPI ethnic or national groups, which he said are currently not apparent because statistics on AAPI demographics and socioeconomic status, among other subjects, are not broken up into different categories. Overall aggregate data on Asian Americans “[conceals] disparities that exist within subgroups or between subgroups,” Teranishi said.

He presented data on higher education attainment and achievement levels that were broken down by various Asian American and Pacific Islander subgroups.The data revealed that while rates of college enrollment and graduation were high for predominantly East and South Asian groups, they are often much lower for Southeast Asian and some Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander groups.

Next, Teranishi spoke about a campaign in the University of California system called “Count Me In,” which collected disaggregated data on AAPI groups. The data, which showed high deviations among AAPI groups in terms of student admissions rates and other benchmarks, has since informed college policies and programs and guided student organizations in activities and outreach.

Teranishi concluded by drawing parallels between AAPI students and communities and those of other nonwhite racial groups. Results and analysis from the disaggregated research and data collection efforts are relevant to AAPIs, he said, but also apply more broadly to issues of race in national discussions.

The event ended with a Q&A from students, staff and faculty in the audience. The questions focused on topics such as disagreement about affirmative action among Asian Americans, mental health among Asians and the importance of efforts to engage Asian American students in the classroom.