Virginia Tech is one of approximately 200 institutions in the U.S. and one of four in Virginia to have been granted the designation of being an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. Approximately 12 percent of the student population identifies with those communities. Through this distinction, the university was recently awarded a $2 million, five-year grant from the department, the first time that Virginia Tech has been awarded such funding.

The grant will allow the university to offer additional support and expand the work of APIDA+ Center (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American) and Ati: Wa:oki Indigenous Community Center.

“The interest in going after this particular grant was multifaceted,” said Melissa Faircloth, director of the Indigenous Community Center. “We can always use more resources in the Cultural and Community Centers to support and retain our students. A lot of our communities have overlaps in their experiences. This not only helps to build solidarity between different identity groups but helps us to create parallel initiatives from which many students can benefit.” 

A collaborative effort

In a collaborative effort between the APIDA+ Center, the Indigenous Community Center, the Office for Inclusion and Diversity, and the Office for Sponsored Programs, the university applies annually to maintain the Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI) designation.

Students and community members attend Indigenous Peoples’ Day programming on the lawn of Solitude.
Students and community members attend Indigenous Peoples’ Day programming on the lawn of Solitude.

“I really pushed for Virginia Tech to become an AANAPISI because I was previously at an institution that had this designation,” said Nina Ha, director of the APIDA+ Center. “I saw the potential for bringing it here and felt that it was really important to convey to the university that being an AANAPISI would strengthen the services and highlight the needs of both undergraduate and graduate students on this campus.”

Students perform at the Asian American Student Union Fall 2023 Culture Show.
Students perform at the Asian American Student Union Fall 2023 Culture Show.

Planning for the communities

Once the grant was awarded, Faircloth and Ha set about making plans for what the funding would mean to their communities. Several projects are underway within the Cultural and Community Centers’ spaces in Squires Student Center:

  • Provide students with resources to take advantage of the overall campus experience, such as attend conferences, professional development programs, internships, student employment, and more.
  • Guest speakers and artists-in-residence from the APIDA and Indigenous communities to show students the diversity of professions, particularly to promote the importance of art education along with STEM.
  • A peer wellness mentoring program, which is being led by upper-class students from the communities as leaders build out a strategic plan for the program. The program will focus on academics, financial health, mental health, and wellness, and the students will receive training on the available campuswide resources.
  • Academic tutoring within the APIDA+ Center and the Indigenous Community Center. This will encourage students to seek help by bringing the service to them with fellow students from the centers serving as tutors. Additionally, the tutors will be trained in peer wellness.
  • Graduate mentor leads are working on two mentorship programs: a graduate student-to-faculty mentoring program and graduate student-to-undergraduate mentoring initiative. Graduate students can assist undergraduates who are looking to continue their education while also building relationships with faculty as they look for their own opportunities as future faculty.
  • Funding of computing and printing services within the centers.
  • Sponsorship of faculty cohorts for four years of the grant. These groups will build curriculum modules to infuse Asian American studies and Indigenous studies into curriculum.
  • Hosting a student leadership training/retreat for all of the Cultural and Community Centers at Virginia Tech.

“Understanding this recent designation is important. It’s not simply that we have this singular grant project. Hoping to maintain this designation, we have to consider institutionally what we are doing to support underserved and underrepresented communities overall and throughout the greater campus community,” said Faircloth.

Students walk the runway at the 2023 Cultural and Community Center Fashion Show
The Cultural and Community Center Fashion Show.

The impact of Cultural and Community Centers

Virginia Tech has built a student-centered community with the intent to uplift the student experience through environment, well-being, and providing services for all. There are approximately 800 student organizations and clubs, including faith-based, first-generation support, well-being, hobbies and interests, academic focuses, and more, that support and programming to the student community. Several are advised through the Cultural and Community Centers.

The Cultural and Community Centers began in 1991 with the founding of the Black Cultural Center. Since that time, additional centers have been established, including the APIDA+ Center, the Indigenous Community Center, El Centro: Hispanic and LatinX Cultural Center, and the Pride Center. The centers advocate for an inclusive environment and advise students as they navigate life at Virginia Tech.

“It is such a collaborative effort,” said Ha. “It is not something we can do in a silo. It is very holistic, and we were very intentional about how we wanted to build our programs. We hope that the impact of these programs doesn’t just reach our communities.”

The centers, under the purview of the Office for Inclusion and Diversity, look to raise cultural awareness and appreciation within the community, opening up their programming to all students as well as faculty, staff, and the public. Committed to inclusion and diversity through InclusiveVT, Virginia Tech strives to create a welcoming environment for the entire community, including those from communities that have been underserved and underrepresented.

Written by April R. Goode

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