Friday, May 8, 2009

Article: "Caught Between Two Cultures"

This is an article from a while back, August 2008, about Cornell's mental health services for Asian/Asian American students. The article's punctuation marks aren't showing up for me, so I replaced them with my own guesses.

Caught Between Two Cultures

by Phuong Ly
Aug 21, 2008, 13:42

Efforts to reach Asian students with culturally appropriate mental health services are paying off.

In many ways, Asian students at Cornell University seem like a successful group. At the competitive Ivy League school, they make up about 17 percent of the student body--by far the school's largest minority.

But the stereotype of Asians as brainy, quiet "model minorities" helps hide serious problems. Of the 14 suicides between 1997 and 2007, eight were students of Asian descent. In anonymous health surveys, Asians were more likely than White students to say they had difficulties with stress, sleep and feelings of hopelessness--and yet they were less likely to seek counseling.

White students may wrestle with the same problems, but tend to get help or be helped sooner, says Dr. Wai-Kwong Wong, a counselor at Cornell's Gannett Health Services.

"To a large extent, it's not just a mental health issue; it's a community issue," Wong says. "A lot of the issues that students were presented with have to do with their environment and their sense of community or lack thereof."

Cornell officials were jolted into action after a university-sponsored report in 2004 detailed the sense of isolation and dissatisfaction among Asian American and international Asian students. Four of the 25 counselors or therapists at the student health center are now of Asian descent, compared to just one previously. Counselors have expanded outreach efforts to include walk-in hours at various campus sites rather than simply waiting for students to make appointments. And this fall, the university plans to hire an assistant dean of students who will focus on working with Asian students.

Breaking Through Cultural Barriers

Cornell has been unique in publicizing statistics such as the number of suicides, but other universities have also recognized the need to diversify their counseling staff and expand outreach efforts. Last year, the University of California-Davis launched the Asian American Center on Disparities Research, which focuses on mental health issues. The center, funded by a $3.9 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, coordinates research from 18 universities.

College can be a tough time for any student, regardless of ethnicity. But many Asians face particular stresses as they are caught between two cultures, according to Dr. Nolan Zane, director of the UC-Davis center.

Asians are expected by mainstream society to do well. And if they're from an immigrant family, the expectations are even higher. Students may feel pressured into "safe" career paths like medicine or law.

"In immigrant families, the children essentially upgrade the status of the family and usually its through educational means," says Zane, who is also a professor in the psychology and Asian American studies programs at UC-Davis. The same issues are seen among international students from Asia.

When problems such as social anxiety and depression arise, cultural barriers prevent many from seeking help. Talking about problems to outsiders is considered taboo and shameful. Getting help from family often isn't an option either. Many Asians attach a strong stigma to mental health problems or simply deny their existence.

Zane recalls that the parents of a Chinese American student couldn't understand why he recommended that their son get counseling. The parents thought their distraught son, whose grades were slipping, just needed to study harder. "Even for the ones getting into treatment, there are higher rates of dropping out [of therapy]," Zane says. "Counselors need to try to determine what kinds of cultural factors get in the way of appropriate care."

Dr. Henry Chung, associate vice president for student health at New York University, says that outreach to Asians is harder also because they tend to not be identified as "problem" students.

"People who have disruptive behavior are more likely to be identified and receive help," says Chung, a psychiatrist. "Asian people tend not to be disruptive. The culture is so enforcing and all encompassing about how you express your emotions in public settings. There's a lot going on under the radar screen."

Two years ago, Chung designed a study at NYU and seven other universities that required student health centers to screen every visitor for depression, regardless of the reason for the visit. According to Chung, most people are more willing to go to a primary health clinic than to a place that is designated for mental health services.

In several of the schools, the number of Asian students screened and helped was proportional to their population on campus. The result was encouraging, Chung says, because usually Asian students won't seek help until their problem becomes an emergency.

"If we are going to do anything from a public health standpoint, we need to detect problems earlier," Chung says. This summer, Chung began expanding his project to 30 campuses.

Erasing the Stigma

At Cornell, the efforts that started four years ago are starting to yield results. From the time he was a freshman until he graduated in May, Timothy Chow witnessed a dramatic change in awareness about mental health issues among his fellow Asian classmates.

In response to the university report on Asian students, Chow and several friends organized a group to advocate for changes. At the initial meetings, fewer than 10 students expressed interest. Chow says that many students likely shied away because they didn't want to be associated with mental health issues.

But this past school year, two events on stress relief sponsored by the Asian/Asian-American Forum attracted more than 100 people each. The fairs featured massage therapists, yoga sessions and presentations from a nutritionist and counselors.

"We didn't want to be really preachy to students and say if you're sad and depressed, come here," says Chow, who is now working in New York at a health care union. "We didn't want to make our community feel targeted in any singular way. We talked more about prevention, that the environment of stress is there and this is how you prevent yourself from being stressed."

Outreach efforts from Cornell's counselors also seem to be attracting students who have shunned traditional counseling services, according to Wong, of the health services center. Preliminary statistics show that about 13 percent of those who use the informal walk-in counseling sites are Asian American and 17 percent are international students (most of them from Asia). The numbers of those who come into the clinic are lower: 9 percent are Asian Americans and 10 percent are international students.

But the good news about mental health awareness is also leading to other concerns.

Bhavna Devani, a graduate student in political science, says that Asian American issues are at risk of becoming synonymous with mental health issues. She feels that university officials are dragging their feet on creating an Asian/Asian American community center because so much progress has been made on mental health awareness. Both recommendations on improvements in counseling and creating a community center were part of the 2004 university report on Asian students.

Devani, a member of the community center committee, says the goals of a center are to help forge identity and social consciousness--not simply mental health. "When we make mental health synonymous with integration, we risk painting all Asians and Asian Americans at Cornell as somehow lacking in mental health," Devani says.

In April, a student wrote a posting on a Cornell news blog joking that an Asian center would be built next to the library. Such a location, he wrote, would help prevent studious Asians from committing suicide.

The posting was written after the school administration officially approved support for a center. After the blog was overwhelmed with protests, the writer issued an apology.

Wong says he has feared such stereotyping of Asian students particularly after last year's shooting at Virginia Tech. Seung-Hui Cho, a Korean American student, killed 32 people before committing suicide in the deadliest campus shooting rampage by a gunman in U.S. history.

"Mainly we want people to see that Asian and Asian Americans are like anybody else," Wong says. "They're not perfect like the model minority myth nor are they all time bombs waiting to explode. We have to try to find that balance."

Monday, April 20, 2009

A3C Director/Asst Dean Has Arrived, Welcome Reception Next Week!

As a reminder, Patricia Nguyen has officially started working at Cornell as of today! Stop by and say hi; she would love to get to meet everyone. Her office is located in Willard Straight, Room 208 (where the Office of Student Support is housed). Her email is

Also, a welcome reception for Patricia will happen on Tuesday, April 28th at 4:30pm at the Asian American Resource Center, 4th floor Rockefeller. Make sure you put this in your calendars!

We also have a Facebook invite. Click to invite yourselves!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Funeral March & Articles about Them

Yesterday, April 2nd, some A3C Committee members joined with other people of color and LGBT people to observe a symbolic funeral for diversity on campus.

Here was the press release for it:
Funeral for Program Houses and safe spaces at Cornell. Students gather to mourn the loss of safe spaces for minorities at Cornell.

Procession to Ho Plaza will start at 12:15pm in front of Sibley Hall on

Thursday April 2, 2009.

Funeral begins at 12:30 on Ho Plaza.

Please dress in black.

Cornell University is regarded as a forward thinking institution committed to diversity and inclusiveness, with a program house system that is respected throughout the country.

However, the university’s purposeful marginalization of these spaces has created the conditions for them to be degraded and disregarded. Cornell’s current policies and attitudes, if continued, will ensure the disappearance of these spaces in the near future.

We are gathering as concerned members of the community to raise awareness of Cornell’s present-day policies and attitudes so that we can prevent this outcome. Specifically, we come to raise awareness for Ujamaa, Latino Living Center, Akwe:kon, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Support Services and the Asian/Asian American Center.

We are aware that these spaces are not currently defunct, however, if action is not taken, they will disappear in the future. The funeral is symbolic of the impending consequences of inaction.

Contact for questions.

The Cornell Sun also came out with a front page article reporting on it and an op-ed piece:
  • Article: "C.U. Minorities Stage Mock Funeral, Ask for Greater Univ. Support" - The title is actually not accurate, but it is beyond the control of the reporter--news editors are the only ones making these titles. First, it implies that only "minorities" should care about diversity. Second, participants of the march are not only asking for greater support, but support that used to be there but were cut or subtly being phased out.
  • Op-Ed: "A New Vision for Program Houses" - A great article written by three community leaders. It sheds light on how the administration has been dealing with diversity problematically and how it can make changes that actually work as they are supposed to.
  • Op-Ed: "Running the Risk of Whitewashing History" - A somewhat related article about the WSH Takeover from 1969.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Interim A3C Floor Plan

Here is the floor plan of the interim A3C. Click on the image for a larger view.

The shaded rectangle on the bottom of the picture was our space. Right now, we are able to use the "secret" chapter room space as well, which would practically double the size we had originally. Renovations include breaking down the blocked doorways to the chapter room and making new walls around the two offices and restroom (left corner of image).

If you want a better copy, I can try sending the PDF to you. Shoot me an email.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Recent Editorials/Articles

1. Anti-A3C Editorial by Anthony Liu, dated 3/4/09

Check out the comments under the editorial.

By the way, if Cornell administrators say they support program housing, it's about time they speak up on this issue--publicly--and why they support it. While the A3C will not be a program house, program houses and the A3C (as well as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center) are safe spaces for oppressed groups to gather and have resources devoted to their needs.

2. Response to Liu by Kevin Cheng, Irene Li, & Olivia Tai, dated 3/5/09


3. Unrelated to what's above: Chronicle article, dated 3/6/09, reporting on Monday's forum and updates about A3C.

Is anyone else bothered that this center is always called "Asian center" in the media?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Thank you for attending Monday's Forum!

Hi all,

Thank you for attending Monday's A3C Forum! With your tough questions and take-no-crap attitude, we showed the administrators that they have to be accountable to us, despite the reality of the economic downturn. The fact is, the A3C project is both a tiny and necessary initiative that Asian/Asian American communities deserve.

1) For future reference and to keep a good account of what the administration said,

Alex Berg's article is a great summary of what was discussed: If you have any comments/constructive criticism, she would like to hear from you (

Clara Ng-Quinn, Kevin Cheng, Janelle Teng, and Susan Duan have recorded some chunks of the forum.

If anyone else has recorded any part of the forum or has taken photos, please let me know.

2) For those who attended, please help the A3C Committee archive what happened!
  • Email me your notes/thoughts from the forum - even one sentence helps a lot.
  • Link me to your photos or recordings of the forum.
  • Please volunteer to listen to five or so minutes of a clip we will assign you to. You do not have to transcribe everything--only what you feel deserves attention.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A3C Forum - THIS Monday!

Dear friends,

We, the students, staff, faculty, and administrators on the Committee for the Asian/Asian American Center (A3C), invite you to attend the second community forum addressing the A3C. This forum will be a unique opportunity to engage with Cornell's top administrators with concerns regarding the resources for communities on campus.

In the spring of 2008, we held the first forum to address the needs of the Asian and Asian American community at Cornell. Top administrators pledged their commitment to establishing A3C and called for the formation of a committee to oversee its implementation. Present at this forum were President David Skorton, Vice President Susan Murphy, Dean of Students Kent Hubbell, and Vice Provost David Harris.

Now, a year later, our administration will again speak on A3C. At this new forum, A3C committee members will update the public on the progress of A3C, as well as the next steps to be taken in the future. President Skorton and Dean Hubbell will be present at this forum to address the administration's stance on A3C and to answer your questions.

This forum is open to all members of the Cornell community and friends. We would appreciate it if you would forward this invitation to your friends and email lists.

Here are the details:

Date: Monday, March 2
Time: 6:30 - 8:00pm
Location: HEC Auditorium, Goldwin SmithSee you at the forum!