This semester, Wellesley College has implemented a new program called Asian Women’s Action for Resilience and Empowerment (AWARE). This initiative was started by the Asian Women’s Sexual Health Initiative Project (AWSHIP), and was first put into effect in Boston University, where Dr. Chris Hyeouk Hahm, who noticed the shocking rates of suicide among Asian American women, conducted her research.
AWARE aims to support Asian women, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean women, by providing therapy sessions and sending daily secure texts, which are called “AWARE Storied.” Unlike previous initiatives, AWARE takes into consideration the cultural differences and challenges that second-generation Asian Americans experience.
There will be eight different sessions targeting various problems Asian American may face, such as body image, drug abuse, family issues and other relationships. This is to battle Asian American women’s tendencies to favor silence over asking for help.
According to a report by National Center for Health in 2012, the suicide rate for Asian women rose by 96.3 percent between 2000 and 2009. Also, the National Institutes of Health announced that Asian American women of ages 18 to 24 have the nation’s highest suicide rate for the women in this group.
Watching this rate increase over the years, Dr. Hahm thought she needed to take action, which led to many studies, revealing the dismal fact that Asian American women showed high risks for depression, risky sexual behaviors and suicidal thoughts. As stated in New America News, she also suggested that there is a stereotype that views Asian women as successful students who can’t be struggling with any mental health issues. However, reality is that they are as prone to them as any other women.
These rising statistics could be the result of how Asian American children are raised. In Asian cultures, people are viewed as part of a group, viewing everyone as ‘we’ as contrasted to the American culture where people are viewed as ‘selves’ who have unique features that contribute to the general whole. Asians rely on others to do certain jobs in their community. This stigma prevents many women from speaking out, as evidenced by the fact that Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek help than their white peers, as suggested in an article in Edify.
Despite the ongoing investigation of the effects of the program in Boston University, Dr. Hahm has labeled Wellesley College the first college in the nation to begin this program. Wellesley students are 22 percent Asian, which is more than double the national average of 10 percent. Also, according to Edify, many of Wellesley students participated in Dr. Hahm’s study, creating a series of sessions and groups to support young women.
As stated in Edify, Stephen Chen, a professor of psychology at Wellesley College, stated that each student needs to understand themselves, including their culture, family background, gender and racial views and the way others perceive them. The hopes for this program are to encourage young Asian American women, no matter their background, to prevent further deterioration of their physical and mental health and increase the numbers of those women who seek help.