May 13, 2015

Higher Education in Oregon: Where are the Pacific Islanders?

by Virginia Luka
Co-chair of Micronesian Islander Community, a volunteer member of APANO, and steering committee member of the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Institute

I gave birth to my first child on Guam twelve years ago before moving to Oregon with my husband. After living on an island for 25 years, moving to the Continental United States was quite a new adventure. My husband and I decided to move to Oregon for many reasons, including the desire to have access to better education, health care, and job security. Eventually, we had a second child and when our son was a couple years old, I took a leap of faith into the world of higher education.

I wasn't raised with the social capital to navigate the intricate system of registration and admission into college, securing funding, and having the tools to graduate. My Palauan-American family expected me to finish high school and go straight into working full-time to help pay bills. In the past eight years, I've attended Rogue Community College, Southern Oregon University, and Portland State University, and I realized there is a severe lack of Pacific Islander students, faculty, and staff…especially folks from Micronesia like me. Based on the Oregon University System 2014 Enrollment Report, here are the numbers of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students in each university:

Portland State University: 165
Western Oregon University: 146
University of Oregon: 99
Oregon State University: 98
Eastern Oregon University: 36
Oregon Institute of Technology: 27
Southern Oregon University: 26
Oregon State University - Cascades: 1

I would have provided community college numbers, but they tend to lump Asians and Pacific Islander students into one category. Despite the fact that the Pacific Islander population is the fastest growing in Oregon, the history of colonization and social inequities continue to act as a barrier to earning a college degree. Compact of Free Association (COFA) state citizens experience even more obstacles with lack of health care, inability to qualify for federal aid including student loans, and facing racial stereotypes despite living in the U.S. legally and paying their taxes.

As the co-chair of Micronesian Islander Community, a volunteer member of APANO, and a steering committee member of the Asian Pacific Islander Leadership Institute, I urge Oregon institutions of higher education to assess their practices and implement culturally specific policies and programs that support Pacific Islander students. Kom kmal mesulang… thank you very much.

Read more stories from AAPI Heritage Month here.

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