By Kawika Riley, CEO and Founder, Pacific Islander Access project
We all know what it’s like to be mistaken for something that we’re not. When this happens in our personal lives, it’s usually just an annoyance or frustration. But for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders who are denied the ability to apply to underrepresented minority scholarships — even though they’re underrepresented — it can mean losing the ability to pay for college, fulfill their potential, or get the support they need to graduate.
I learned about this problem firsthand as a college student, when I was told by a well-intentioned executive at an underrepresented minority scholars program that while Native Hawaiians may be underrepresented in higher education, her program couldn’t allow me to apply as an underrepresented minority. Why not? Because Native Hawaiians are Pacific Islanders… and Pacific Islanders are Asian Pacific Islanders… and as a group, Asian Pacific Islanders are not underrepresented.
With a bit of research and a lot of help from U.S. Senators Daniel Akaka and Ted Kennedy, that program changed its ways. Still, it made me wonder how many other well-intended underrepresented minority programs were making the same mistake, despite the fact that the U.S. Census has produced decades worth of data demonstrating that Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are underrepresented in higher education.
I did a year-long research project to answer that question in 2004. This year, as part of the Pacific Islander Access project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, I asked the same questions.
Want to know what we found out? We wrote about it here.
Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are underrepresented in higher education, but they’re excluded from applying to most academic programs for underrepresented minorities. Kawika Riley is the CEO and Founder of the Pacific Islander Access project: a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation dedicated to fixing that problem, and raising public awareness about America’s growing Pacific Islander community. His work experiences include being a congressional aide, college faculty, spokesman for a federal counterterrorism agency, and an advocate for Native Hawaiians, but he runs the Pacific Islander Access project on a volunteer basis (in other words, he does that for free).