Pacific-Islander students need more representation

When thinking about underserved ethnic groups, Asian-Americans rarely come to mind.

Popular culture and the media have shaped the perception of Asian-Americans as compulsive overachievers. But, just as there is no such thing as a “typical” USC student, this stereotype is inevitably false. As a result, the Pacific-Islander community often gets neglected.

In order to combat this, USC Asian Pacific American Student Services is coordinating with the Pacific Islander Initiative as well as the Promoting Unity, Liberation, and Education, to host the Second Annual PULE High School Summit on Saturday, March 30.

According to CollegeBoard’s data, 44.1 percent of Asian-Americans hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Though this is almost double the average for all Americans (24.1 percent), this statistic cannot be taken at face value. But while considered “Asian-American,” only 13.6 percent of Pacific Islanders attain a bachelor’s degree or higher.

More significantly, nearly a quarter — 21.7 percent — do not even finish high school.

The model minority myth obscures these facts and prevents the PI community from accessing the resources it needs.

This prompted student coordinators Danny Boy Naha Ve’evalu and Mace Porotesano  to reach out to the local Pacific Islander community through a mentorship program in 2009. Their Positive Outcomes Through Outreach program pairs students from Jordan High School with USC mentors. Though Naha Ve’evalu cites Professor Nancy Lutkehaus’s class, From “Romance” to “Reality:” Western Representations of Pacific Islands and Islanders, as one of the few classes that addresses the Pacific Islander community, most schools do not teach PI history.

Naha Ve’evalu told the Daily Trojan that the POTO program is “necessary and vital” because it opens up “a dialog about issues in the PI community.”

He adds that this program is “more than just another [PI] club.” Mentors integrate film screenings, book discussions and guest lectures into their curriculums. POTO aims to expose students to current PI leaders, help them think critically about issues in the PI community and encourage them to apply to college.

According to USC’s online Facts and Figures, 23 percent of the students in the fall of 2012 identified as Asian-American. But higher-education enrollment rates gloss over the Pacific Islander population by grouping them under the umbrella term “Asian-American.”  Only after unearthing USC’s 2012-13 freshman profile does the disparity between Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders become apparent.

Only 2 percent of incoming students identified as Pacific Islander or Native American; thus, less than 2 percent of the incoming class identified as Pacific Islander, making this the smallest demographic group at USC.

The APASS’s PULE summit empowers PI youth and provides local students with access to information about higher education. Porotesano describes the summit as “bridging a gap” between the PI youth and higher education. The goal of the summit is to encourage local Pacific Islanders to apply to and enroll at USC.  Despite USC’s intimidating price tag, PULE wants local Pacific Islanders to know that attending USC is an option.

“In the long term, we hope to establish a pipeline [to USC],” Porotesano remarked.

The summit will also feature a campus tour with admission and financial aid presentations sponsored by the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus and Undergraduate Admissions.

In addition to reaching out to high school students, the PULE summit engages with the Pacific Islander community on and off campus, celebrates PI leaders and draws attention to issues in the PI community.

The summit will feature guest speaker Sefa Aina, director of the Asian American Resource Center at Pomona College. Aina is also a leader in the White House’s 2009 Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders under the U.S. Department of Education. The Samoan National Nurses Association will also make a presentation on mental health. Local student volunteers will also conduct PI pride and identity workshops.

Although the summit emphasizes the relationship between PI youth and higher education, Porotesano and Naha Ve’evalu emphasize that this is not an exclusive event. In order to attend this free event, email Porotesano at                                           


Veronica An is an undeclared freshman.