By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
“UW, where have you been all my life?” asked Mia Tuan.
Tuan is the first Asian American female and third Asian American to be the Dean of the College of Education at the University of Washington (UW).
The opportunity at UW was a “dream come true” for Tuan.
Born in Taiwan, Tuan and her family immigrated to the U.S. by way of Australia when she was three. She considers herself part of the 1.5 generation.
Tuan’s family settled in the Bay Area. She explained that they were a part of the generation that helped diversify the area.
“My experiences as a kid were formative, a lot had to do with ‘Do I belong? Where do I belong? What does it take to belong?’” Tuan said.
Tuan was aware that she wasn’t part of the “norm” and was subjected to racist comments growing up.
But when she attended the University of California at Berkeley in the mid-1980’s, she felt liberated. She described the experience as a freedom to be in a place where race wasn’t the first thing people noticed because the population was about 50 percent Asian.
“We’re not just individuals, we’re members of groups, and that membership matters in really important ways,” Tuan said.
Tuan was a sociologist in training and she took that work and went deeper at UCLA during graduate school.
She studied the concepts of identity development, racial ethnic identity development, immigration adaptation, and Asian adoptee identities. Tuan was interested in the changing student dynamics of school-race relations.
Tuan’s first position out of graduate school was at the University of Oregon (UO) teaching race relations and identity development.
“I consider myself an accidental administrator,” she said.
A race-related incident took place on the predominantly white campus during Tuan’s earlier days at UO, and she was consulted for her experience to help with the situation. She joined an advisory group on issues of race, but no one taught her how to talk about race. She became intrigued with the idea that talking about race wasn’t just a simple conversation. The president at the time asked Tuan to lead a taskforce and explore the race issues. That’s how she got into administration. For several years, Tuan worked proactively to make the syllabus more inclusive and diverse.
Tuan was a pioneer in her role, and one of the first women of color to be promoted at UO.
Then UW called, and she couldn’t refuse.
Tuan started as UW’s Dean of the College of Education on July 1.
She feels fortunate that others have already paved the path in the work of equity, inclusion, and access at UW. She doesn’t have to be the first one, which means the work will look different. But for her, to step into the leadership role, there is a mobility and permission that comes with not being first.
“I love being at an institution where the president can talk about equity, identity, and inequality fluidly…I feel confident that my leader gets these issues and has committed to making a difference. I am clear that equity and having a community is core to the faculty in this college. It’s so relieving and empowering,” she said.
Partnership and collaboration are words that Tuan hears again and again at UW.
She is learning to unfurl and figure out what her and her team can do to collectively move the needle with the current issues.
Some of the issues include K-12 college access, opportunity gaps, differential rates, kids from immigrant communities, etc. They aim to create a sense of belonging for those who are minorities and working with poverty-impacted kids.
Tuan hopes to lead the way about best practices and the best outcomes that are diverse.
“A teacher has to know how to teach a broad section of kids, not just a particular type of group. The principal has to be a part of a diverse workforce and work with kids from all walks of life,” she explained.
Tuan feels fortunate to have had important mentors along the way who have shaped how she thinks intellectually and helped her become the administrator she strives to be.
“I do feel this sense of responsibility to make a difference. This is not just a job; it’s a responsibility. Whatever it takes to connect to communities, and what it means to develop those relationships of trust; both as an individual and representative of my college is important to me,” she explained.
She tries to do work from an authentic place. Being Asian, an immigrant, and a woman of color are all the identities that she occupies, and they inform her on how to do the job as the Dean.
“You don’t park that part of yourself at the door,” she said.
Moving from Eugene has been a gift, and she’s glad she’s able to share that with her kids.
“The fact that I can have pho when I want, is like heaven,” Tuan said.
“I find myself reliving the experience as an undergrad at Berkeley where everything is open and possible. As a newbie, Seattle has that special quality. I get it, and I think this place gets me and I feel like I belong,” she said. (end)