Greater Wisdom

How Governor Jerry Brown missed an opportunity to make California smarter by vetoing AB 176

By Andy Le, HIP Member

On October 7, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed AB 176, a bill that would have required California’s Community College system to collect disaggregated data on Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) subgroups. In his veto message, California Governor Jerry Brown wrote,

“Dividing people into ethnic or other subcategories may yield more information, but not necessarily greater wisdom about what actions should follow."

Unfortunately, Governor Brown’s decision to veto AB 176 fails to acknowledge the significant wisdom and more thoughtful public policy that has already resulted from the on-going battle to move beyond the “Other Asian” category.

A Dream Denied

In 2003, UC Berkeley Professor Khatharaya Um published A Dream Denied (2003) about Southeast Asians and their challenges in higher education. In the groundbreaking report, Professor Um chronicled the struggles of Southeast Asian American students using disaggregated data and recommended additional support for student retention and high school outreach programs. The insights gained from this small sample size of data helped drive campus initiatives that saw increases in student retention and success among historically underserved populations.  

Count Me In!

While AB 176 was ambitious in trying to codify disaggregated data collection into State law for community colleges, it was not an unprecedented change in regards to higher education. Nearly ten years ago, in the culmination of the student-led “Count Me In” Campaign, the University of California recognized the tremendous wisdom in understanding the diversity within the API community and agreed to further disaggregated its data collection. Spearheaded by student leaders from UCLA’s Asian Pacific Coalition, the “Count Me In” campaign helped bring to the light the challenges many API students encounter in trying to access higher education. Moreover, the “Count Me In” Campaign helped policy makers and school administrators better target resources to low-income and first generation students who needed the most support.

Read more about the Count Me In! Campaign here:

Planting New Seeds at UC Irvine

I co-founded the Southeast Asian Student Association (SASA) in the fall of 2012. The passion behind the formation of SASA was to continue the dialogue of the Southeast Asian refugee experience and to allow students to tell their family stories. Our family stories are often left out of history textbooks, which provides important insight on themes of trauma, war, displacement, colonization, violence, and much more. Therefore,  SASA created a space for political, cultural, and educational advancement of Southeast Asian students.

I researched and requested disaggregated data on freshman retention rates by specific Southeast Asian ethnic groups. Somewhat surprisingly, I noticed the administration’s lack of attention to Southeast Asian students educational experiences based on the low retention and graduation rates. As a result, I piloted a seminar-program called Southeast Asian Retention through Creating Hxstory (SEARCH) to assist incoming first-year and transfer Southeast Asian students.  The importance of disaggregated data supported the funding of SEARCH, identified key student retention issues and the development of a holistic advising model. SEARCH ignited a needed discussion surrounding retention on a national level supported by the Southeast Asian American Studies Conference.  

Choosing to know less about our communities is not wise. In fact, being ignorant to the diversity within the State of California dangerously overlooks the social, economic, health, and educational disparities that continue to exist.
— Andy Le, HIP Member

By vetoing AB 176, Governor Brown perpetuates the model minority myth and exacerbates the invisibility, marginalization, and untold hxstories of our community. Choosing to know less about our communities is not wise. In fact, being ignorant to the diversity within the State of California dangerously overlooks the social, economic, health, and educational disparities that continue to exist.

Disaggregated data gives decision makers and administrators wisdom they would otherwise never have. Fully disaggregating data helps to expose hidden trends, for example, it can reveal how poverty and multiple marginalization affects youth in their undoubtedly fate  in the school to prison pipeline. Moreover, disaggregating data is essential in identifying vulnerable groups and oppressive forces such as deportation, incarceration, and gentrification that continue to impact the livelihoods of families.

Sadly, by vetoing AB 176, Governor Brown missed an opportunity to help the State better serve Californians.It is a decision that will ultimately prove to be very unwise.