Experiences and data from offices and programs including the Counseling Center, DMC, Multicultural Peer Mentoring Program, and Admissions.
Days-Massolo Center (DMC)
WHERE IS THE ASIAN STUDENT UNION?
A few Asian students think it’s strange that the Asian Student Union (ASU) is not a part of the Days-Massolo Center (DMC). Some Asian students find it confusing and are unsure how they feel about it. Surprisingly, other students were not even aware that ASU was not under the DMC umbrella and had assumed that as a cultural organization, it had a home there. As a result, both the students who weren’t aware, as well as those who knew about ASU’s absence, think it solidifies the model minority myth and excludes them from support they feel like they need unconditionally rather than under difficult and certain circumstances. At Hamilton, the DMC is home to the Black Latinx Student Union (BLSU), Center for Intersectional Feminism, Feminists of Color Collective (FCC), Gender and Sexuality Student Union (GSU), La Vanguardia, and the Voices of Color Lecture Series (VCLS). Naturally, students would perceive the DMC as the hub of cultural diversity and safe place for marginalized groups to uplift and support one another. The Asian Student Union’s absence from the DMC raises questions about whether or not they or Asian and Asian American students belong anywhere or are even recognized as a marginalized group.
Some Asian identifying students have came up with theories as to why the Asian Student Union (ASU) is not a part of the Days-Massolo Center (DMC). Students speculate that it supports the idea of “Model Minority Myth” which “Asian Americans are successful in school because they work hard and come from cultures that believe in the value of education” with their accomplishments are contrasted by “the under achievements of other minorities” by popular press.1 An Asian identifying student mentioned that the exclusion of ASU “plays into the idea that Asian students have more money and are at a closer proximity to whiteness, cutting off Asians who are doing worse financially” compared to what others think.
WHAT FITS UNDER THE DMC UMBRELLA?
However, this perception is not the case at all. First, we need to address what the difference is between a cultural organization that would fit under the DMC’s umbrella of organizations versus one that wouldn’t. The Days-Massolo Center’s mission statement, according to their webpage “facilitates student community organizing, leads in inclusive educational initiatives, and amplifies the marginalized voices of those striving to make the Hamilton experience more equitable. The Days-Massolo Center works collaboratively with campus partners and community organizations to sponsor educational and cultural programs, to foster connections and to create opportunities for difficult conversations.”
The Days-Massolo Center fosters serious conversations, works for social causes, and advances social justice rather than just existing. For instance, there is a difference between an Asian cultural club that wants to share cuisine and bond over culture versus an Asian cultural club that wants to address racial inequality in the United States. The Asian Student Union has been the former.
Historically, past E-Boards of the Asian Student Union felt like the Days-Massolo Center was not their cultural home. But that does not mean the door to the DMC is closed off completely. The Asian Student Union and Days-Massolo Center could still collaborate on events that foster conversations for social justice. For instance, during Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) month, the DMC and ASU collaborated in a Cafecito event. In this event, ASU and the DMC welcomed the campus community, Asian identifying students, and Professors Kyoko Omori and Steven Yao to participate in a conversation regarding experiencing racism as an Asian individual. A wide variety of topics were discussed, such as name pronunciation, reactions towards stereotypes, and the difficulties of moving to Upstate New York. During this collaboration, the Asian Student Union was still in a rebuilding phase but wanted to host an event for APIDA month that brought attention to the recent anti-Asian hate rhetoric that has populated over the United States. Collaborations like these allow for ASU and DMC to work together and further strengthen a relationship that champions social justice.
Although some Asian students reported an appreciation that the DMC and ASU were able to collaborate on an event in the wake of anti-Asian hate, some students felt like the Cafecito event was an attempt for “good press” rather than genuine care. This negative view of the event could further push students away from trusting the DMC or to feel more excluded as a minority. What the DMC could do to address these feelings and misunderstandings is to highlight what organizations are classified under their umbrella. The nature of the Asian Student Union’s absence in the Days-Massolo Center should be clarified in order to rectify some feelings of exclusion. Asian students should be made aware that the Asian Student Union’s absence from the DMC is not rooted in malice but rather regulations that prioritize maintaining a relationship that champions social justice.
Whether or not the Asian Student Union joins the Days-Massolo Center organizational umbrella depends on the opinions of ASU’s members. If the Asian Student Union is ready to focus on championing social justice on behalf of Asian and Asian American students, the Days-Massolo Center has its doors open.
HOW DO WE GIVE ASIAN STUDENTS WHAT THEY NEED?
It’s evident that the Asian experience is not homogeneous. There’s a difference between what it means to be Asian versus Asian American. These two identities have their own unique experiences and challenges. Being raised in an Asian country, for instance, Vietnam, does not entail the same experience as a Vietnamese-American who grew up in California or Texas. In a college of less than 2000 students, these two respective worlds can feel extremely isolating. So what can Hamilton College do to address the rift and provide support to these two different experiences? What resources does the college have in place to help Asian and Asian American students?
It’s difficult to gauge what students need if the college isn’t sure what Asian and Asian American students want. What is it that students need? It’s difficult for the people who want to help Asian and Asian American students and their voices without making assumptions. If students aren’t vocalizing their concerns to the college, what is it that could be done?
Hamilton College could host public or private spaces for conversation and give students that platform or ability to vocalize what is needed. With that said, change for the Asian and Asian American student body starts with being aware of what is needed. Rather than relying on an observer’s perception of what’s needed, the Asian and Asian American student community, active participants of these experiences, need to make their needs known to the college in order for change to begin.
1. Lee, Stacey J. “Behind the Model-Minority Stereotype: Voices of High- and Low-Achieving Asian American Students.” Anthropology & Education Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 4, 1994, pp. 413–429. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3195858. Accessed 16 July 2021.
Admissions and Dean of Students Offices
One of the first-ever interactions a prospective Asian or Asian American student will have will be the Admissions office. Whether it be through a tour guide led tour, a virtual event, or an email, Admissions is the first step to address diversity on campus.
HOW HAS ADMISSIONS ADDRESSED AND PLANS TO ADDERSS THE LACK OF DIVERSITY ON CAMPUS?
The admissions office has taken various steps to make the admissions process more equitable. This includes steps such as steadily increasing the number of QuestBridge Match students (students with a full ride to Hamilton as a part of the National College Match), and more virtual programming for prospective students leading to a better access to Hamilton for students of color. Hamilton’s Admissions process is also test optional right now. These increased virtual programs and shifting to a test optional process are certainly a result of the pandemic. Yet, they seem to want to remain test optional for the next few years and reevaluate this in the future and there seem to be plans to continue offering virtual programs in order to provide students of color with better access to Hamilton. They are also being mindful and strategic about the placement of admissions counselors across the country in order to better reach these minority communities.
According to ORI data, while the overall students of color population has been steadily increasing over the last few years, the percentage of Asian students of color seems to be stagnant over the last few years, toggling somewhere between 6.5%-7.8%. However, this data isn’t the most accurate because it doesn’t seem to include multiracial students or international students. According to data from admissions, 11% of the incoming class of 2025 identifies as Asian which is certainly an increase from previous years. The data on how many Asian students are part of any opportunity programs isn’t calculated.
RETENTION RATES AND CANCEL CULTRE
Once Asian and Asian American students get on campus, they face other challenges as described in the Student Write-up on this website. While trying to attain retention rates among Asian students on campus, we were told that those don’t exist as of right now. A representative told us that they have been trying to get those statistics as well but have been unsuccessful so far. They expressed that since the college’s graduation rate is 90%, people aren’t interested in understanding where the mere 10% is missing out. However, their long-term goal is to improve the graduation rate until it is as close to 100% as it can be. Additionally, from our student interviews, we saw a theme of the concern of cancel culture on campus. The intention of cancel culture is to hold an individual accountable for their actions. However, while doing so, we strip an individual of human dignity. This representative, while addressing the cancel culture, emphasized the role of students in tackling it. In their opinion, addressing and battling cancel culture on campus would be more effective if it was a student-driven effort and movement, allowing for impactful movement and change.
Multicultural Peer Mentoring Program (MP2)
Multicultural Peer Mentoring Program (MP2), led by Dean Allen Harrison, can be a key part of one’s first year at Hamilton. Established in the fall of 2011, the program’s purpose, according to the Hamilton website, is to “assist international, first-generation (first in the family to attend college) and historically underrepresented students with their transition to college life.”1 Despite its focus, the program, and its opportunities remain to every student on campus.
HOW HAS MP2 CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
As a result of decades of student satisfaction surveys, an apparent dissatisfaction about the social experience at Hamilton was noticed among first generation students, international students, and students of color. Thus, in its inception MP2’s main focus was to address a student’s sense of belonging, or lack thereof, at Hamilton College, not specifically academic or educational needs. However, through the years, the program has now collaborated with various resources on campus to introduce first year students to them including the career center for introductory workshops on career planning, and faculty dinners that allow students to connect with faculty from the departments they are interested in exploring. Additionally, the funding available to the program has increased significantly through the years allowing for more programming. The name includes “Multicultural” to highlight the diversity that the program fosters, not just in terms of race but also in terms of life experiences and backgrounds.
The program has evolved from 22 mentors and mentees respectively in its initial stages to now including approximately 70-80 mentees and 30-40 mentors. The program has nearly increased its participation 3-4 times in the last 10 years which can be attributed to various things; including the availability of additional funding for programming, and student’s desires to give back to the program that they had been a part of or regretted not being a part of during their first year. Moreover, the program seems to seamlessly integrate into a mentor’s social obligations and schedule. Despite the voluntary nature of the program for the mentors, the program never seems to fall short on the number of mentors required which speaks to the amount of care mentors put into the program.
Typically, there are 200 potential mentees coming in each year that fit either one or multiple criteria for participating in MP2. Out of these 200, typically 70-80 decide to benefit from the program, making it a good yield. Not every student that fits these criteria needs the program so it is obvious why the yield isn’t 100%. International students are, however, required to be a part of the program especially if they have had no experiences with getting an education in the United States. The program seems to be efficient in pairing mentors and mentees with similar interests together, however, the system is not perfect.
HOW DO STUDENTS VIEW MP2?
The effectiveness of the program for helping Asian and Asian American students acclimate to campus doesn’t have a straightforward answer. The effectiveness of the program depends on how much the mentors and mentees are willing to commit to the program. According to a representative of the program, for those who are strongly committed to the program, the program satisfaction surveys have shown that their satisfaction with the effectiveness of the program is pretty high. They have had “great experiences.” With an overwhelming number of Asian students feeling connected to the program, the program seems to be filling a void of the sense of belonging for Asian students at Hamilton. It seems like, for these students, they didn’t seem to connect to the Hamilton community and MP2 was their home that helped them establish footing on Hamilton. An educated guess made by a representative from MP2 says “Asian students are really utilizing and taking advantage of the program.” This is apparent in the numbers as over the last 5-6 years, around or at least a third of the mentors and mentees are students identifying as Asian which is “significant.”
From student testimonies, it is clear that the program is having a positive impact on the student population. An overwhelming majority of the students have had extremely positive experiences with their mentors and as mentees. They think that the program certainly helped with getting acclimated to the college environment. However, there are stories where mentees haven’t felt completely connected to their mentor. Particularly, in one case the mentor and mentee had almost nothing in common. The mentee still recalls positive experiences with their mentor and that relationship blossoming into a friendship. However, they were disappointed that their request for a person of color to be their mentor was not met. The mentee does understand that the matching process is more difficult for some than others but the racial difference did seem daunting to them at first.
All in all, MP2 certainly seems to play a key part in various people’s journeys at Hamilton and has overall made a positive impact on campus.
1. “Peer Mentoring Project,” Hamilton College, accessed July 21, 2021, https://www.hamilton.edu/offices/dos/peer-mentoring-project.
Hamilton College, like other institutions of higher education nationwide, is aware of the importance of addressing student mental health concerns. In the wake of a Hamilton College student’s suicide in 2016, the counseling center has made a concentrated effort to improve mental health resources available to students. On campus, the Johnson Center for Health and Wellness, newly constructed in 2018, provides students with medical care and mental health services. The center has proven essential to the emotional well-being of students, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent years, the Wellness Center has increased the number of full-time psychologists, added a 24/7 hotline, and contracted additional third-party counselors. It also offers the services of a psychiatrist and dietician, as well as peer counselors, group therapy, acupuncture, sound healing, and various workshops.
Although Hamilton College aims to destigmatize the use of mental health resources, a negative perception still exists among certain ethinic groups. Corrigan et al. (2014) explains that some Asians perceive mental illness as a disability that reflects family problems. The authors conclude that Asians who regard mental illness with suspicion are less likely to seek mental health services.1 Owing to the stigma surrounding mental health, particularly in Asia and among Asian ethnic groups, we thought it would be interesting to learn about the demographics of clients who visit the counseling center. According to data for the academic year 2020-2021 provided by a representative from the Wellness Center, approximately 10% of clients identified as Asian. In the academic years leading up to last year, 14% (2019-2020) and 11% (2018-2019) of clients identified as Asian. Therefore, on average, approximately 10-15% of clients who utilized the services provided by the counseling center were Asian. The data presented above and below is unclear as we are not aware if it includes international and multiracial students who identify as Asian. Asian students made up 7.2% of the student body, or 138 Asian, non-hispanic students, in the academic year 2020-2021. In the previous academic year of 2019-2020, 6.9% of the entire student body was Asian. These numbers seem to contradict the previous studies because it appears that Asian students use the counseling center in a greater proportion than the general student population.
While many Hamilton students experience significant anxiety, Asian students face particular pressures. In a study conducted by Lee et al. (2009), participants reported facing certain stressors in meeting parental expectations of academic achievement, fulfilling the model-minority stereotype, balancing contrasting cultures, maintaining family-oriented values, and combating racial discriminiation.2 Asian-identifying students tend to seek aid for issues concerning academic distress; cultural differences; intense familial, societal, and cultural expectations; conflicting values; and suffering from microaggressions.
Students experiencing academic distress are not necessarily performing poorly, but rather fear the possibility of performing poorly. This anxiety stems from self-criticism, familial or cultural expectations, or a combination of both. Those who are first-generation college students or first-generation U.S. citizens may experience familial pressure, as well as a clash of cultures and value structures. According to Abe-Kim et al. (2007), the rate at which Asian people utilize mental health services depends on their birthplace and generation status.3
Finally, microaggressions and race-related discrimination tend to appear differently in the Asian student population in comparison with other BIPOC populations. An interaction leaving an Asian student feeling slightly uncomfortable, hurt, or confused may be due to the fact that they just experienced a microaggression. The accumulation of experiences like these can be troubling and emotionally traumatic for minorities. Indeed, a Wellness Center representative commented,
As a clinician, those experiences around race or micro-aggressions tend to be a little more subtle and harder to figure out if they’re really there for Asians. There’s a little bit of a higher potential of assimilation into the primarily white campus for Asians. [This] introduces different tensions around the greater ability to assimilate into mainstream culture, the greater degree to which you can actually lose other value structures that are important to you because it’s easier to forget them.
It is important to tease apart the issues that students from Asia experience versus those of Asian Americans. The difficulties an international student faces may differ from an American student’s challenges. International students deal more with cultural differences, language barriers, and unfamiliarity with American pedagogy. Living far from home while absorbing American culture can be an overwhelming and isolating experience. Hamilton College prides itself on small classes that foster discussion and debate where professors facilitate participation with open-ended questions. Students are aware of professors’ expectations and attend class, bearing annotated texts peppered with questions and comments. However, international students may be more accustomed to formal lectures, where students passively take notes and participate only when infrequently called upon. In addition, language barriers pose a struggle. Introductory classes are no bigger than 30 students, and 78% of classes are composed of fewer than 19 students. It is difficult to hide in such intimate classes. Moreover, keeping up with Hamilton’s rigorous curriculum can be tough for any student. An international student’s sense of isolation may deepen with the intimidating academic atmosphere, leading to an increased sense of anxiety. Due to Hamilton’s emphasis on oral communication and writing skills, professors often encourage students to use resources such as the Oral Communication Center and Writing Center. Even so, balancing multiple cultures and languages, in addition to taking full advantage of everything Hamilton has to offer, is not a straightforward task.
International students may benefit from Wellness Center services. The center has sought to address the issues of specific populations by hosting group therapy sessions. For instance, the Wellness Center facilitated group sessions for female-identifying groups, seniors, and others that focused on academic pressures and interpersonal development. Although there are no specific services geared toward Asian-identifying students in regard to xenophobia and Asian hate during the pandemic, the Wellness Center asserts that it will create group-therapy focus groups and advertise them to students in the next academic year. This past year, group therapy sessions did not take place due to remote meetings with counselors. Logistically, hosting group therapy on Zoom did not seem ideal for any party. With an improvement in pandemic conditions, Asian international and Asian American students may find the offerings appealing and helpful.
The counseling center is seeking to respond to a backlash for its lack of staff diversity. The Wellness Center has made efforts to diversify its candidate pool to compensate for this gap and meet the demand for services.. Even with an increase in psychologists, the Wellness Center staff will continue to make efforts to hire diverse candidates who share common characteristics with students – such as race, sexual orientation, gender, etc. Despite the limited number of counselors and available appointments, the Wellness Center toils to be accessible to everyone.
1. Corrigan, Patrick W., Benjamin G. Druss, and Deborah A. Perlick. “The Impact of Mental Illness Stigma on Seeking and Participating in Mental Health Care.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 15, no. 2 (2014): 37-70. Accessed July 31, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44151252.
2. Lee, Sunmin, Hee-Soon Juon, Genevieve Martinez, Chiehwen E. Hsu, E. Stephanie Robinson, Julie Bawa, and Grace X. Ma. “Model minority at risk: expressed needs of mental health by Asian American young adults.” Journal of Community Health vol. 34 (April 2009): 144-152. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10900-008-9137-1
3. Abe-Kim, Jennifer, David T Takeuchi, Seunghye Hong, Nolan Zane, Stanley Sue, Michael S Spencer, Hoa Appel, Ethel Nicdao, and Margarita Alegria. “Use of Mental Health-Related Services Among Immigrant and US-Born Asian Americans: Results From the National Latino and Asian American Study.” American journal of public health (1971) 97, no. 1 (2007): 91–98.
As a college that values writing, Hamilton College offers many resources to improve one’s literary skills. One of which was the ESOL Center. However, this summer, the ESOL Center was dissolved with multilingual support being split and moved to the Writing and Oral Communication Center (OCC) this coming academic year. With the dissolvement of the ESOL Center, we felt it was important to inform those reading this write-up the influence and impact the program had on many students at Hamilton. The ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Center was a valuable resource for many students at Hamilton College. In addition to the services provided to students to improve their understanding of American academic writing, the center also served as a community for those with similar struggles with the support of a professional tutor. However, there are misconceptions about the ESOL Center. For example, the ESOL Center is not an actual center but a program. A representative from the ESOL Center explained that “part of the misconception is that it is listed with academic resource centers, but it never reached the next stage of reaching center status.” The program was created in 2004 with the initial intent to create a program to support multilingual students and a separate writing program. The group of faculty and administrators who pushed the program through “believed it was necessary to identify multilingual students, in a positive way, to give students academic writing support… and to give them a transition space.” However, despite our initial perception of the ESOL program, the multilingual students the ESOL center has supported were not limited to international students, but also various domestic students. The center was an open voluntary program for any student that wished to participate.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE WRITING CENTER + OCC AND ESOL PROGRAM
Although the Writing Center is also a valuable resource in improving one’s academic writing, there are inherent differences between a session at the ESOL Center and one at the Writing Center. One of the key differences between the two resources is their structure. Each appointment at the Writing Center is a maximum of one hour with a limitation of the number of appointments a student can make within a timeframe. Comparatively, tutors at the ESOL program are not limited by time during each session, as well as there are no constraints on the number of appointments a student can make, alleviating pressure on students and tutors and allowing for a deeper learning experience. Moreover, Writing Center appointments are centered around assignments that are about to be handed in while students can visit the ESOL program about already graded work to receive feedback on future developments. Another key difference is the fact that tutors working for the ESOL programs are professional tutors with years of experience working with students that are not native English speakers. Although peer tutors at the Writing Center are extremely helpful, many are native speakers to whom English comes more intuitively so it may cause difficulties to instruct another student on the intricacies of the language. Another issue is that the struggle of multilingual students on campus is not always about the language itself, but of undergoing that shift and expansion in perspective and thinking which is common for anyone in a new country or place. Professional tutors at the ESOL center were familiar with these situations and able to help students through them while peer tutors may struggle due to inexperience. A student testimonial from the now archived ESOL Center page from the Hamilton College Website explained that “What is unique about the program is the concern that the tutors have about the student’s voice in the editing process. Not only do the tutors teach the students the ‘rules of the (academic) game’ but they give us the courage to actively participate in class, conduct the ESOL radio show or even write for The Spectator.” The ESOL radio show and the Spectator column uniquely gave a platform to international and multilingual students to express the difficulties they faced. Although OCC and Writing Center tutors are fantastic, it is not within their job description to provide such support to students as they are supposed to work on what is presented at their session.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES OFFERED THROUGH THE ESOL CENTER
In addition, the ESOL program offers a sense of community which can’t be replaced by the OCC and Writing Center despite their own advantages. Besides the ESOL offices functioning as a space where many students could vent and talk about their day, the program sponsored dinners, workshops, and Sunday Brunches for students to socialize and build that community. A representative from the program also talked about how in the early years, weekly conversation tables and guest speakers were sponsored for any and all students interested in participating. Another student testimonial from the now archived ESOL Center page from the Hamilton College website explains that “I believe the ESOL program was a safe haven for me. Every morning when we had class I felt like I was no longer an outsider but I belonged here. Everything I learned during class provided me with a solid foundation to further my Hamilton career. And as I became more comfortable with my life on the Hill, I was able to come into my own as a person, a woman, a writer and a poet.” Due to time constraints, we were unable to specifically interview students who have utilized the ESOL program; however, of the students interviewed, a student did mention that the ESOL center “was more or less ‘home’ for many of the international students who took Miss Hysell’s class (the director of the ESOL Center) first thing they come into Hamilton College. This formed a strong community between international students, helped international students orient to campus throughout the semester and foster cultural awareness and integration through academic writing.” Moreover, another student mentioned the ESOL program was a resource they utilized often and they are devastated for it to be gone. The student explained that although the Writing Center can be helpful, the ESOL program allows them to not worry about judgment from peers due to lack of English fluency and how these tutors were more knowledgeable about teaching English as for many native speakers, they are more instinct driven; however, they may not understand why.
Although around 100-120 students and 80-100 professors used the ESOL program every year, the ESOL program was not without its struggles. One of the struggles the ESOL program faced was funding. The program only hired two tutors on a part-time basis. Despite the desire to hire more tutors and to have current tutors work full time, a representative from the program explained there simply was not enough funding received. Another plight the program had was visibility. A representative from the program explains that “the program wasn’t promoted from the top down” which prevented more students from being aware of the esol center as a resource compared to the writing center. For example, many professors often mention the usage of the writing center when classes start or on their syllabus but the ESOL program does not receive the same treatment due to the lack of push.