Mentors, from left, Kim Hwang, PsyD., Fatima Lawson, PhD., Amy Park, Hui Wilcox-Harris, PhD., Beryl Wingate, PsyD., Sara Enow, Ismahan mohamud, and Linnea Swanson, PsyD. (Photo by Maya Nishikawa)
By MAYA NISHIKAWA
AAP staff writer
For many Asian Americans and other minorities in Minnesota, getting into graduate school is a big accomplishment. But, taking that step in higher education can also be more than an academic challenge. It can be a personal struggle that some didn’t anticipate, like being the only person of color in a class about diversity.
“In my classes, I don’t get a lot of opinions from other people of color. It’s just me that has to speak for all people of color instead of just me, a Korean/Italian mixed race person. That’s been a challenge for me,” said Amy Park, a student in the clinical psychology master’s program at Argosy University.
Ismahan Mohamud has similar feelings about being singled out in her graduate school classes.
“In the classes I’ve taken so far, I’m the only black person. It’s very challenging because there’s no one to look up to for a specific question who may be able to share the same experiences,” added Mohamud, a student in the public health master’s program at Argosy.
These graduate students and others have found each other and mentors through one of their Argosy professors Dr. Kim Hwang. She realized her students of color needed some support to make it through the world of graduate school.
“They are totally enthusiastic and they want to do well. They are passionate about education, at same time feeling isolated. I don’t want that barrier of isolation to be something that won’t allow them to cross the finish line,” said Hwang.
Professor Hwang gathered some friends, who like her, survived graduate school and the feelings of isolation to go on to successful careers. Even though it’s not part of her role as a psychology professor, Hwang invited her students to meet and ask questions from women who know what it’s like to wrestle with these issues.
“That’s reality. You work harder. It’s the plain truth,” offered Fatima Lawson, who has a doctorate degree in Education Policy.
The mentors talked about their own feelings of isolation and the people who sometimes made them feel like they didn’t belong in their programs.
“Sometimes people don’t see you. You have to cultivate your own resources,” said Hui Wilcox, Professor of Sociology at the College of St. Catherine.
“You’re changing while you’re in school and it’s hard for others to relate,” explained Linnea Swanson, Professor of Psychology at Argosy University.
The mentors agreed that finding your own support group, people who will listen and understand is a key to success.
“You’ve got to reach beyond yourself. Find those who can bolster you up. Others see what they want. You know who you are and need to stand for that,” added Beryl Wingate, Ph.D in Psychology.
The students felt encouraged by the open and honest discussion.
“I call it a motivation group. It motivates you to continue to strive for your best no matter who gets you down or what gets you down in life. Always strive for your best,” said Mohamud.
Sarah Enow found the discussion helpful, especially since she also feels isolated by her cultural community, which doesn’t understand why she is pursuing psychology as a career.
“I always feel the odd one out. They think I’m insane and wasting my time. But, I’m determined. I feel I know what I want,” she said.
They also felt uplifted by the positive tone of discussion. It wasn’t all about “fighting the system”.
“The word strength comes to mind. It’s really inspiring to see so many strong women in the field. They aren’t all coming from a place of anger and feeling they’ve been cheated. They’ve risen above it. It’s very inspiring to see women positive, happy and supporting each other. I love that,” commented Park.
Although not a formal mentor program, this meeting of minds accomplished just what Dr. Hwang had hoped.
“I think it was exciting just to see us see an open dialogue with people encouraging each other and laughing and having a good time. There are many people of color who yearn for the same opportunities as everyone else. This is a point we can visually see and recognize. We’re not alone.”