SAN FRANCISCO — The “Five Questions With…” blog series–presented by the “We’re the Changing Face of America” campaign, features the stories of students, public officials, business professionals, entertainers, and other notable Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders. These individuals are sharing their experiences in higher education to help inspire today’s generation of AAPI students to reach for success.
This interview is with Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum President and CEO Kathy Ko Chin. The five questions offer insight into Chin’s life and her work to improve the state of health of the national APIA community.
Q: Can you tell us where you went to college and what you studied?
A: At Stanford, I studied biochemistry. During my first years in college, my intention was to become a biochemist and find a cure for cancer. But, the student activism bug bit me early on and my plans changed. First in the 1970s, I joined the “divest from South Africa” campaign to protest apartheid. Then, I joined thousands of my fellow students advocating for affirmative action in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (the Supreme Court decision in 1978 that upheld affirmative action). Once I got the activism bug, I started leading Asian American and feminist student work. Finally, after a detour through the mathematics department, I ended up as an economics major and graduated two quarters early.
Q: How would you describe yourself before and after college?
A: Before college, I was definitely an overachiever, both academically and beyond. I started volunteering in high school at the local free clinic and continued making health work a priority in college, both on campus and in San Francisco’s Chinatown. After college, I became more adventurous and committed. I lived in Shanghai for nearly a year after graduating and then traveled around the world. During that time though, I put all my efforts into getting a coveted internship at the University of California, San Francisco in health policy. As luck would have it, that didn’t materialize until much later! And after, fueled by my commitment to reproductive justice, I worked at Planned Parenthood. In those days, Roe v. Wade was still a relatively new decision.
Q: Was there a time when you stumbled in college and were able to recover? How did you overcome the difficulty?
A: Unfortunately, I kept getting D’s in my chosen major. That wasn’t good. So, whenever that happened, usually triggered by some form of student activism, I switched majors. Finally at the beginning of my junior year, the university held my registration card because I hadn’t declared a major. I ended up taking a week, getting up really early each day, and assessed myself: Examining what my strengths were, what my weaknesses were, and what I was really interested in. I figured out that getting a public health degree and running a medical clinic for the poor was the best fit, both in terms of my passion and skill set. This made me work even harder to finish my bachelor’s as soon as possible so I could move on to what I was really passionate about.
Q: What advice do you have for AAPI students going to college today?
A: The best advice I can give students is to get involved, volunteer in the community. If there’s an AA NHPI community-based organization near by (like within an hour), volunteer there. I used to take the bus to the cable car over an hour each way to volunteer in San Francisco’s Chinatown. If there isn’t an AA NHPI organization around, volunteer at any organization that has a social justice mission. Not only will this be one of the best experiences you’ve ever had, but you’ll also make a big difference to the community you’re serving. This is how change happens. We wouldn’t have the Voting Rights Act, Roe v. Wade, or the Affordable Care Act if people-many of them students-didn’t get involved to make things better for everyone.
Q: What inspires you to make a change in your community?
A: My greatest inspiration is my parents, who are immigrants. They were educated, but still came to this country with nothing to pursue the American Dream. Like the classic story goes, they wanted to have a family-with children who were American citizens-so that their children could live out their dreams. I do the work I do to return my debt to my parents. They raised my siblings and I with the belief that community service is the price of admission for living on this earth.
Contact Kathy Ko Chin on Twitter: @kathykochin and via @APIAHF Facebook: @apiahf.
The “We’re the Changing Face of America” campaign is a national public awareness effort dedicated to increasing access and completion among Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students, the fastest-growing student population in U.S. colleges and universities. Launched in March 2013 by the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) and the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE)-the leading AAPI student- and research-focused organizations, respectively-the campaign works through strategic partnerships to help ensure that access and success challenges experienced by the AAPI student population do not continue. The campaign supports the Partnership for Equity in Education through Research project, which works to improve educational outcomes for AAPI students.
What five questions would you ask AAPI leaders about their college experience? Let us know by sending an email to [email protected]