April 9, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 114—Asian American discrimination, and diversity in occupational therapy

Recent attacks on Asian Americans have brought discrimination against this group to the forefront. But discrimination against Asian Americans is not new. What is new, according to Ellen Wu, professor of history and director of the Asian studies program at Indiana University Bloomington, the level of national attention focused on anti-Asian racism coming from outside Asian American communities In fact, Wu says she never could have imagined a critical mass of national attention on Asian American history and discrimination. The support coming from non-Asian groups, Wu says, reminds her of the George Floyd movement in summer 2020, which mobilized people from all races who had not previously been actively involved in racial justice issues. Wu says that it’s important to recognize that the grass-roots campaign against anti-Asian violence follows other moments of Asian American activism in history. She points to how the term “Asian American” emerged out of the Asian American movement, which began in the late 1960s and called for solidarity across Asian nationalities and other minority groups. Wu says the earlier movement grew out of the Black Power and anti-Vietnam War movement, and many say it began with a strike in 1968 at San Francisco State College, where Asians and students from other racial groups pushed for an ethnic studies curriculum. Those students pushed policymakers to begin to recognize Asian Americans as a minority group that deserved new resources and attention, a push that is being renewed by a new generation of activists today.

In other news, occupational therapists use meaningful activities to promote health. But when the majority of the profession is comprised of white women, can they adequately meet the needs of a diverse population? That’s the question IUPUI’s Sally Wasmuth is tackling through a new project supported by IU’s Racial Justice Research Fund. Wasmuth and her team are promoting equity in occupational therapy and developing action steps to diversify the field. Their aim is to change the landscape of occupational therapy, and in doing so, diversify health care in the United States. According to Wasmuth, white women make up 83 percent of the occupational therapy workforce. Women far outweigh men in the profession, who comprise just under 15 percent of the field. Furthermore, Asian practitioners make up around seven percent of all occupational therapists, and Black therapists comprise around five percent of the workforce. As part of the project, Cierra Milton, a doctoral student in occupational therapy, has been conducting in-depth interviews with Black occupational therapy students and practitioners across the country and is detailing their journeys in the field. Wasmuth and her team are also using theater to tell the stories of Black occupational therapy students and practitioners, expanding on previous success using performances to talk about the experiences of marginalized populations in order to reduce stigma and bias. Wasmuth hopes the project will translate beyond the field of occupational therapy, with health care systems, academic programs, and community groups using the theater performance to spark their own critical discussions about developing action steps to diversify their fields.