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This past Friday, Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL) interns and scholars woke up at dark o’ clock in the morning to make it to Virginia by 8:00am, no small feat when Safetrack metro plans are considered. As they were shuttled from the metro station, they said their last goodbyes to their phones and other electronic devices, because where they were headed was a facility where they could not have any electronic connection to the outside world. They were headed to the CIA.

None were too certain of what to expect, but the interns and scholars most certainly did not expect to hear this at the outset of a CIA representative’s informational presentation.

“Diversity and inclusion play vital parts in keeping America safe.”

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On Wednesday evening at last week’s Washington Leadership Program Session V: Mental Health, the importance of AAPI representation and diversity was emphasized by panelist, presenter, and former CAPAL Board Member Viraj Patel (University of Philadelphia – Pan-Asian American Community House Associate Director), who spoke of the underrepresentation of minorities in mental health studies or of minority-issue training in counselor masters programs. Other panelists Shamyla Tareen (Montgomery College – Counselor, Provate Practice – Therapist) and Juliet Bui (Office of Minority Health – Public Health Advisor) echoed this sentiment with supplementary facts regarding Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) mental health, of how AAPIs are less likely to be recognized as having mental health illnesses because there is a stigma attached to reporting mental health issues. CAPAL alumnus and current CAPAL Programs and Operations Associate Andrew Lo moderated the panel, guiding the panelists to elucidate solutions and resources for AAPIs take advantage of to try and remedy this underrepresentation. It was quickly evident that structural change would make the most difference, of how existing programs need to recognize the nuances associated with being a minority and treat accordingly. And a major way to change that is through direct representation of AAPI voices within institutions.

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In a CAPAL Roundtable Session moderated by Tenzin GGT (Crowell and Moring Law Firm – Paralegal) on Thursday afternoon, David Kim (Federal Highway Administration – Deputy Administrator) also talked of the importance of infrastructure and institutions, and how they influence perceptions of race and socioeconomic status particularly when referencing public transportation. He spoke specifically of the link between equity of access to public transportation and income levels playing roles in brutality, how transportation has the potential to connect people but divide neighborhoods. Representation of AAPI voices via journalistic endeavors documenting injustices of transportation infrastructure is what makes the difference to communities. And again, direct representation of community members within positions is a major way to enact structural change.

The scholars and interns on the CIA tour were told of dozens of opportunities made available for people of all backgrounds to apply and possibly join the CIA. From library scientists to chemistry majors, a plethora of options were detailed. Because at the CIA, a variety of backgrounds creates a stronger and broader base of perspectives with which to solve problems…and that is key in “keeping America safe.” These interns and scholars have the potential to do anything, and in learning of the importance of representation and the power of their voices, anything they do will reap greater potential for equitable representation.

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*Special thanks to Victoria Ma and Victoria Vong for providing notes taken from the Washington Leadership Program Session V: Mental Health and the Roundtable Session with David Kim to make this blog post possible.

If you enjoyed reading about events this week, join us next week to experience them yourself at our Conservation Careers Symposium and our Washington Leadership Program Session VI: Art, Culture, and Storytelling.


CAPAL’s Mission: Promote AAPI interests and success in public service careers, to provide information and education on policy issues affecting the AAPI community, and to serve the AAPI community at large.

Posted by Felicia Wong

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Felicia Wong is currently a senior at the College of William and Mary, double majoring in Neuroscience and Asian American Studies, and minoring in Biochemistry. She is president of the Filipino American Student Association, and current non-academic projects include creating films calling for greater diversity curriculums/requirements and establishing an official APIA Studies program on campus. Felicia was also elected president of Global Medical Brigades her junior year to lead a sustainable healthcare program in Nicaragua. She hopes to connect her interests in healthcare with the community she has found in her cultural background and teachings. Having lived in Germany for most of her childhood, Felicia makes yearly trips back to visit her family, providing opportunities for her to indulge in her greatest joys: touring castles, eating at cafés, taking fashion cues from strangers, cooking with her family. Non-country specific pleasures include: biking, watching live music performances, screaming because Game of Thrones.