SHAPING debunks Asian-American education stereotypes

DANIEL ANDERSON | Evergreen columnist

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Asian-American and Pacific Islander high school students from across the state of Washington attended the annual WSU SHAPING Conference this past weekend, a three-day, WSU student-led conference encouraging them to pursue higher education.

SHAPING (Shaping High School Asian Pacific Islanders for the Next Generation) aids students with networking opportunities, financial aid or any other resources they might need in their pursuit of higher education.

“My main thing was to inspire my students to do better and to do better for their communities, to be social and to not be afraid to try new things,” SHAPING Co-Chair and senior Allen Manipon said.

The conference is led by groups of volunteers with various positions, such as team leader, documentation and security.

Team leaders act as guides and mentors to the prospective college students, very much in the same fashion as an orientation counselor. Team leaders provide campus tours, attend leadership workshops with their groups, answer questions about college life, Greek life, admissions and more.

Students also attended a banquet Saturday night with a talent show, awards, a scholarship ceremony and keynote speakers.

“We are able to relate to these students. We share their experiences and are able to outreach because of that,” Manipon said.

Experiences seem to be a backbone in this year’s conference theme of ROOTS (Rising Over Obstacles Toward Success). The conference has an emphasis on illustrating that education is achievable despite coming from a possible low-income family or being a first-generation college student.

It might surprise some that WSU is a leader with its involvement and empowerment of Asian and Pacific Islander people, in comparison to a school like UW which harbors a nearly 50 percent Asian representation at their school, but there is strength from a lack in numbers.

There is underrepresentation of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the nation, and at this school, but that gives us something to fight for.

UW has admirable empowerment and voice in their Asian and Pacific Islander organizations and student body as well, but there is something special and unique about the community at WSU.

Many of my best friends go to UW and I thought about going there as well; but if I had gone, I would not have cared to join the multicultural organizations in the same way I have here.

I would have been surrounded by Asians, and that niche and desire to fit in with people that relate to me would have been filled. Here at WSU, I sought out the communities that were reflective of my identity and, in doing so, I found my family and place here.

The SHAPING conference in itself also demystifies a stereotype within the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Education and being Asian or Pacific Islander are not synonymous.

It is true that Asians in America have higher education attainment than any other race group. News organizations like the New York Times and CNN all attest to the same thing and have written articles on why Asians are so academically successful.

But that doesn’t represent every story or every person within those communities. SHAPING is geared toward helping students that think higher education is not something within their grasp.

Education is a privilege to have but should be a right; something that shouldn’t be given, but earned.

While I want to boast about how my people are more “successful” than any other group in this country, it is important to take a step back and look at the full spectrum of people and not to paint all of us the same hue of yellow.

I myself am atrociously terrible at math. I think science is really cool, but I’m not at all adept in it. I am more attuned with my emotions than a lot of other people I know. I’m here at this university to pursue my dreams of writing, travel, food and connecting with people, not to become a doctor or lawyer.

I am an individual.

SHAPING isn’t just about education, it is also about identity.

“They can always count on their community, and do something better with their lives and not be ashamed of where they come from or who they are,” Manipon said.

If any of the SHAPING students happen to stumble on this article, I would like to share that sentiment. In the long journey to make your dreams a reality, cherish who you are and where you come from. There is a loud and personal quiet power to that.

As it stands right now in this country, no matter the education you receive or how hard you work, there might be someone that subjects you and makes you feel like a foreigner. Remember there is more to your entity than your education, and don’t ever let someone define your identity.

If your parents immigrated to this country for a better life, take pride in their sacrifice and struggle, the very thing that shapes your story. The rest of your story is up to you to write and fill in the blanks.