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AAPI Alliance hosts town hall for School of Medicine students, faculty

A graphic with statistics about racist encounters is pictured. The UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Alliance hosted a virtual town hall Oct. 10 to discuss issues faced by AAPI community members. (Courtesy of Danielle Cho)

By Danielle H. Cho

Oct. 18, 2023 12:12 a.m.

The UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine hosted a town hall Oct. 10 to discuss challenges faced by Asian American and Pacific Islander students, faculty and staff.

The annual town hall, organized by the School of Medicine’s AAPI Alliance, was a chance to hear back from medical students, faculty and staff about issues they face at the School of Medicine, said Dr. Alice Kuo, the chief of medicine-pediatrics and preventive medicine. During the event, Kuo and Dr. Daniel Lu, the vice chair of neurosurgery, fielded concerns from audience members about microaggressions and the lack of AAPI individuals in leadership positions and discussed potential solutions, such as a training video and the newly founded Center for Asian Equity and Health.

During the town hall, Kuo and Lu discussed plans to create a training video to raise awareness about issues facing the AAPI community, such as implicit bias, microaggressions and discrimination.

Bryan Vuong, a medical student and the former co-president of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association, said it is important to acknowledge the similarities and differences in the AAPI community.

“Asian Americans as a monolith is powerful, … but I think that (it’s) equally as dangerous to really consider us as a monolith,” he said. “We should acknowledge the differences amongst the communities but also come together.”

Kuo added that people’s experiences across the AAPI community can vary greatly.

“The experience of a rich, well-educated Chinese immigrant is not the same as the Vietnamese who fled Vietnam in the ‘70s and ‘80s coming to the U.S. on a boat,” she said.

Lu said he and Kuo co-founded the AAPI Alliance in 2021 in collaboration with physicians and staff to raise awareness and advance AAPI-related causes within the School of Medicine after a rise in anti-AAPI sentiment because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kuo added that the AAPI Alliance seeks to promote AAPI individuals to leadership positions within the School of Medicine, provide mentorship for junior AAPI faculty and staff, and raise awareness about implicit bias and microaggressions faced by AAPI individuals in the medical field.

Lu, who is also a professor of neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery, said these efforts – including the town hall – have fallen under a larger attempt to make the School of Medicine a better place for all minority groups.

“We’re not just fighting for ourselves. We’re fighting for everyone here, and it’s coming from a place of care and love,” Lu said.

Another major goal of the town hall was to figure out how to have more AAPI faculty in leadership positions, Kuo said, adding that the number of AAPI individuals in leadership positions is about 10-15% despite around a third of the school being of AAPI heritage.

Kuo also discussed the Center for Asian Equity and Health, which she said is meant to provide more systematic support in leadership training and mentoring for junior AAPI faculty.

At the town hall, Kuo shared a project led by medical students, residents and faculty to develop an AAPI-specific training video that is planned to be released in May 2024 during the next AAPI Heritage Month.

“We asked our network to try to find training videos, and people in the dean’s office were trying to help us as well,” Kuo said. “They came back a couple months later and said, ‘Alice, there isn’t anything. There is no training video. There’s no training – nobody has made one.’ And then I said, ‘So we should make one!’”

Kuo invited interested audience members to get involved in the production of the video.

Vuong said it was meaningful to him to see that the town hall cared about student voices and that it encouraged students to get involved in projects and support the work being done.

Lu said the alliance has been collaborating with School of Medicine leadership to address issues faced by the AAPI community. Another town hall took place with Dean Steven Dubinett and Vice Dean of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Dave McIntosh on Tuesday.

Lu added that in doing this work, he hopes his children will not have to face the same biases that he has.

“I’m hopeful that with what I do here, … things will be different for them so that they don’t have to encounter some of these obstacles as they grow up,” he said.

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Danielle H. Cho
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