By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
The diversity in Seattle’s population has grown in many ways over the last 50 years. Seattle Central College (SCC) opened in 1966 as the city’s first two-year college and the 19th in Washington state.
While 18 percent of its current student population is made up of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, it has renewed its efforts to attract more students with ethnic connections to Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
On June 7, SCC hosted the fifth in a series of open public meetings. Called “Community Conversations with the Southeast Asian Communities,” the event drew current and former SCC students, alumni, and community representatives of Southeast Asian descent.
SCC Interim Chief Diversity and Equity Officer Tina Young said, “We are really here to learn from our guests. We are hoping our guests will learn from us, too.”
Introduced by Young, SCC President Sheila Edwards Lange welcomed everyone for making time to talk about how the college can do better in engaging with the Southeast Asian community.
“One of the most important things that we can do in the next 50 [years] is staying connected to the community even though we changed our name,” she said. The city’s three community colleges dropped the word “community” from their names in 2014.
“That’s what’s going to propel us into the future, that’s what’s going to make sure that we stay connected to our vision of making sure that all of this prosperity that’s happening in Seattle, that everyone in Seattle gets access to it.”
She says 40 percent of SCC students continue their education by transferring to a four-year university or college.
“We have got to figure out how we can diversify our faculty, how we can partner more with the community to get students here,” Edwards Lange said.
“We really want to hear how to partner with you all to get more students from your community here and on the pathway to either jobs or to transfer education.”
Crystina Mai Mostad, SCC student conduct officer, then conducted a real-time poll as an introduction to SCC for those who are not familiar with the college. The guests used their cellphones to send a text and join the poll. Their answers were instantly tabulated and shown on a giant screen.
The poll covered areas such as academic experience at SCC and its satellite campuses, which include the Wood Technology Center in the Central District and the Seattle Maritime Academy near the Ballard Bridge.
Mai Mostad said, “When we opened up (in July 1966), we fulfilled a huge unmet need for affordable education and career training.”
Forty-one percent of the guests identified word-of-mouth as the way they hear about SCC.
The final question concerned the number one barrier to student success — 45 percent chose financial aid and funding.
Bo Leong, SCC completion coach in TRiO student support services, facilitated a student panel, featuring former SCC student and now University of Washington (UW) student Mandy Vu, Hau Khual, and Safira Ezani, a former SCC student and now UW accounting student of Malaysian descent.
When asked about her thoughts about SCC being a place of belonging, Ezani said, “Here in Seattle Central, it being an open access institution, I was able to find a lot of other people who shared their stories. It’s easier to connect with them because they know the struggles of, the importance of family, the cultural pressures of being American, and being wherever you’re from.”
Emotions came forward when Khual, a former SCC student of Burmese descent now attending North Seattle College, described when he didn’t feel a sense of belonging on the SCC campus.
“I don’t see people that look like me. When I see that, and I don’t feel like I’m being welcomed here,” he said. “When I talk to some people and they don’t really take me seriously because of my problem with my studying and that kind of stuff, and that really hurts my feelings.”
More public community meetings are planned for the future.
For more information about Seattle Central College, go to seattlecentral.edu.
James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.