Mai H. Vang, Graduate Researcher, University of MA Boston
May 7, 2017
As a first generation doctoral student of Hmong American heritage, my academic pathway has been less than ordinary. I do not make this statement lightly since statements of this nature risk perpetuating the myth that Hmong American women in higher education are super human survivors of an unsophisticated patriarchal community. Rather, I write this acknowledgment to highlight that my pathway into a doctoral program did not resemble any of the brochures found in graduate admissions offices.
My educational journey has been full of twists, turns, and stops as I sought entrance into a system that was not designed to validate the Intersectionalites that make up me—refugee, English Language Learner, and first generation student. My decision to pursue a doctorate degree itself was a challenge. I constantly wrestled to access an elite world of academia in which I did not have the necessary social capital of institutionalized networks and relationships. As a doctoral student in the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) Higher Education PhD program, I feel fortunate that UMB has the capacity and people, through the AANAPISI mission, to serve as sources of capital for me so that I can thrive and complete my program.
Dee and Daly (Dee & Daly, 2012; Stanton-Salazar, 1997) write that developing an inclusive campus culture includes faculty members serving as cultural agents who have the capacity to transmit cultural knowledge of the institution to students. The faculty members and staff from Asian American Studies Program (AsAmSt) and Asian American Student Success Program (ASSP) have served as cultural agents who provide advisement on academic language and norms as well as opportunities for me to grow as a researcher. In essence, they have given me a sense of belonging at UMB as a scholar-practioner by implementing the innovative practice of involving doctoral researchers in the AANAPISI mission. For example, I was given the opportunity to participate in an AsAmSt course (my first ever) and learned critical content and community building curriculum and pedagogy. As such, I now have new pedagogical approaches to add to my teaching toolkit as well as established mentor-mentee relationship with the program directors.
At APAHE 2017, I participated in a brainstorming session on the critical nature of faculty involvement at AANAPISIs. I was heartened to learn that UMB has a unique relationship between doctoral students and AsAmSt and ASSP. It is holistic support systems such as the one at UMB that can lead to inclusive conditions required for meeting the needs of the most vulnerable Asian American higher education students. My recommendations for future APAHE conferences would be to include sessions on how to institutionalize faculty members as cultural agents in doctoral programs. It is critical that AANAPISIs sustain their efforts throughout the higher education pipeline since “doctoral education serves a key role in the U.S. system of higher education, training faculty, and scholars to engage with future generations of students (Gardner & Holley, 2011).”
Dee, J. R., & Daly, C. J. (2012). Engaging faculty in the process of cultural change in support of diverse student populations. Creating campus cultures: Fostering success among racially diverse student populations, 168-188.
Gardner, S. K., & Holley, K. A. (2011). “Those invisible barriers are real”: The progression of first-generation students through doctoral education. Equity & Excellence in Education, 44(1), 77-92.View More Blog