Let's Talk! Promoting the Success and Well-Being of Asian and Asian-American Students
By Christine Park; Co-edited by Cathy Kang and Tony Vo (Communication Fellow with the VOICE Program)
On Saturday, April 15th, over 350 participants attended the second annual Let’s Talk! Conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Despite popular notions of widespread Asian and Asian American academic and career success in America, the Let’s Talk! Conference sought to acknowledge and break down the less visible cross-cultural struggles of Asian and Asian American students today. Recent data from the National Latino and Asian American Study (NLAAS) shows that Asian Americans have a 17.3% overall lifetime rate of any psychiatric disorder, yet are three times less likely to seek mental health services than white Americans[i]. Additionally, a recent study shows only 8.6% of Asian Americans sought any type of mental health service or resource compared to nearly 18% of the general population nationwidei. As prefaced by national statistics, lack of awareness and under-utilization of mental health resources is prevalent among the Asian American community. This lack of awareness directly affects Asian American youth and young adults. A 2005 study found that Asian American college students were more likely than White American students to have had suicidal thoughts and to attempt suicide[ii]. The Let’s Talk! Conference sought to mitigate these risks and de-stigmatize psychiatric disorders by fostering dialogue about mental health and cross-cultural issues among Asian American students and their parents/guardians.
Led by faculty member Dr. Josephine Kim of the Prevention Science and Practice Department of HGSE and Marina Lee, director of Cogita Education Initiative, Let’s Talk! presented an opportunity for parents and guardians, students and other key stakeholders to explore ways of promoting both the success and well-being of Asian and Asian American high school and college students. Partnering with the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, Let’s Talk launched the screening of the Clay Center’s poignant documentary “Looking for Luke”, following the suicide of Harvard undergraduate, Luke Tang, in 2015. Followed by the screening, discussion was moderated among a panel of mental health professionals. Due to prevailing stigmas and lack of understanding concerning mental illness among the Asian American community, panel members encouraged attendees to voice their thoughts and questions concerning Asian American mental health.
Attendees then participated in breakout sessions of their choice, on topics ranging from mindfulness education to LGBTQ issues among the Asian American community. Lastly, the conference concluded with a keynote presentation by Dr. Josephine Kim on bridging the cultural gap between Asian immigrant parents and their American children. Through the documentary screening, panel discussion, breakout sessions, and keynote presentation, attendees walked away with newfound knowledge that promotes emotional well-being and success. Parents and guardians learned how cultural expectations and differences manifest in daily interactions with their children, how sound attachment and communication skills can be used to buffer stressors in their children’s lives, and how well-being and success can be promoted concurrently without sacrificing one for the other.
One attendee remarked on the sheer beauty and empowerment of being surrounded by those of similar backgrounds: "To be surrounded by so many people that look like me, to share emotions and experiences compassionately with one another was incredibly empowering." Another attendee was “humbled and inspired by the conversations” that took place. Others were greatly moved. As one attendee commented, “I teared up multiple times during the keynote. I feel like it is very, very rare for me to connect with a speaker, especially in such a large audience, on multiple levels (a daughter, an Asian American, even thinking about the future as a parent).” Perhaps most importantly, attendees walked away with greater confidence in supporting Asian and Asian American youth. One attendee commented, "This was one of the most valuable things I've done at HGSE, and I feel much more prepared to support my Asian and Asian-American students and families next year."
Find out more about the conference on www.talkhgse.org
As part of his work as a Communication Fellow with the VOICE Program, Tony produced a recruitment video for the Let's Talk! conference.
[i] Spencer, M., Chen, J., Gee, G., Fabian, C., Takeuchi, D. (2010). "Discrimination and Mental Health-Related Service Use in a National Study of Asian Americans." American Journal of Public Health, 100 (12), 2410-2417.
[ii] Kisch J, Leino EV, Silverman MM. (2005) Aspects of suicidal behavior, depression, and treatment in college students: Results from the spring 2000 National College Health Assessment Survey. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. 35. 3–13.