Southeast Asian students discuss challenges faced balancing academics and culture

Darlene Wendels/ The Collegian

Students of Southeast Asian descent discussed the challenges of attending Fresno State while still maintaining their cultural backgrounds during a diversity forum Tuesday held at the Henry Madden Library.

The forum was one of several activities organized by the President’s Commission on Human Relations and Equity geared toward issues faced by Asian Americans. The day’s events also included a panel discussion from the Asian Faculty & Staff Association and a keynote presentation by Dr. Robert Teranishi, a professor of social science and comparative education at UCLA.

According to statistics provided at the forum, Southeast Asians at Fresno State had an 8 percent four-year graduation rate and a 43 percent six-year graduation rate in 2013.

The student panel consisted of five students from Fresno State: Johnny Vang, who is Hmong; Christy Chen, who is from China; Karl Mickelson, whose family derives from Tonga; Yia Yang, whose family is from Thailand, and Danny Yang from Cambodia of Chinese descent.

The students discussed the importance of building relationships with advisors and professors to have a better chance of success.

In Yia Yang’s culture, he said, it is expected of them to go to college and succeed in school while being a supportive family member and without getting help from his parents.

“Parents don’t know what college is like,” he said. “There’s also peer pressure from friends who try to tell you to not go to school and just get a job right away.”

The student panel also discussed what Fresno State can do to help Southeast Asians become successful students.

Christy Chen explained how the library at Fresno State closes at 11:00 p.m. She proposed for “Fresno State to open a computer lab room for undergrad students” later for those who seek more time at school to finish homework and projects.

Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro attended the student panel portion of the forum and gave a spoke about the importance of the ethnic and cultural background of each student at Fresno State. He explained that the “goal is to raise awareness” and said he was proud that the Southeast Asian community spoke up about their hardships and concerns.

Fresno State has recently received a award for being one of the top colleges in the nation for excellence in diversity.

Associate professor of criminology Dr. Yoshiko Takahashi concluded the panel. He explained that he understood where the students were coming from, because he went through the same experiences.

Takashi said the students who took part in the event are on the right track to making a difference.


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