Second Annual UW Hmong Parents Day:
Everybody Loves Bucky
For the past several years, the Hmong Research Team has been conducting research to see how Hmong students can have a better and more successful
experience on the Madison campus.
“We conduct research on the Hmong undergraduate experience and how to support the students,” said Shee Yee Chang, a member of the Hmong
Research Team. “We interview Hmong parents as well. We find out how we can better support the parents and the students and how we can apply our
research into practice on that.”
The team started to pick up on some interesting trends.
“Several years ago, my Hmong Research Team was conducting some qualitative interviews in the local area with Hmong parents,” said Dr. Alberta
Gloria, a professor in the UW School of Education. “They very consistently told us that — these were parents of students who were attending UW-Madison
or other higher education institutions — they continuously brought their child to school and dropped them off and picked them up. But that was their only
interaction with the school. They indicated that they really desired to be a part of the university, but they didn’t know how. A large part of it was their
language skills and not speaking English. They were unsure about how they could connect. It became very clear for our team that we needed to bring the
parents onto the campus and do it in such a way that they feel comfortable.”
What resulted was the establishment of the Hmong Parents Day on the UW-Madison campus. On Saturday April 14 several dozen parents of Hmong
students spent the day on the UW campus to learn more about the campus and higher education and of course, to meet Bucky Badger. They attended some
instructional sessions in which the materials and what was said were all in Hmong. They also took a walking tour around part of the campus, courtesy of
the early arrival of spring.
“Many of our parents have no formal education,” said Pa Her, one of the event organizers. “The idea of higher education is really foreign to them. Inviting
them here today helps them and gives them a little knowledge of what college is all about so that they can better support their child.”
And the day allows the parents to ask questions and interact with Hmong students who are not their own.
“Last year, we had undergraduates who sat on the panel who shared their experiences formally,” said Pahoua Thao, one of last year’s organizers who
came back from New York to participate in the day. “This year, it is informal sharing of experiences since a lot of our student volunteers are walking
around with the parents and talking with the parents informally. We hope this creates a start to bridge through communication between parents and
students. For example, this morning, we talked a lot about FERPA, Family Education and Privacy Act, where the parents can’t have access to students’
academic records after they are 18-years-old. We talk to students and parents about the need to communicate with each other. And I think that as parents
come to Hmong Parents Day and they get to be inside classrooms, get to hear about the different resources here, they can go back and talk to their
students a little bit more about the college process.”
Since the concept of higher education is very foreign to them, some of the adults really have to start over in terms of being able to understand what their
children go through and how they can be of help.
“I think a lot of them are wondering about what this place is like anyway,” Thao said. “What is the day-to-day life of a student on this campus? I think we
had a parent this morning comment about she was a returning participant from last year. She really saw the difference of working hard, so they
encouraged their student by telling them to work hard. And their sense of working hard was probably like farming or gardening or things like that. And
there is a difference between their kind of working hard and the kind of working hard that the students do here, which is really working hard intellectually.
So they got to see that.”
By the end of the visit before they ate a traditional Hmong meal at the Education building, the parents took turns having their photo taken with Bucky
Badger. Even the staff wanted their photo taken with him. And if their enthusiasm was any indication, these Hmong parents were a long ways to bonding
to the UW campus. And they left feeling they can now make a meaningful contribution to their children’s education.
Clockwise from upper left: Shee Yee Chang, Pa Her, Michelle Xiong and Pahoua
Thao; Participants in the UW Hmong Parents Day with Bucky Badger; Dr. Alberta
Gloria (r) and Bucky Badger;
By Jonathan Gramling
Over the past 30 years, several waves of Hmong refugees have come to Madison.
Originally from the highlands of Laos and due to their alliance with U.S. armed forces
and the CIA during the Vietnam War, were forced to flee to refugee camps in Thailand
before coming to the U.S., many of the Hmong had little formal education because
they were fighting or fleeing most of their lives. But now their children have grown
up in U.S. society, learned English as a young age, progressed through the
educational system and matriculated to higher education like other American
students. But the parents can be left feeling left behind in a still largely foreign world.