How Oakton College plans to use federal grant to help minority students

Asian Americans often are viewed as a model minority that's educated and affluent.

That stereotype presents a challenge for Asian American students who come from low-income families or are first-generation immigrants struggling to assimilate in American society while facing unique cultural challenges and barriers, said Edwin Chandrasekar, Oakton Community College vice president for administrative affairs.

Nearly 25% of Oakton's fall enrollment is made up of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students. The Des Plaines college has received a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Education grant as an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution.

Illinois has the fifth-largest AAPI population nationwide. Oakton is the first Illinois community college to receive the grant, which will help collect data on and support those populations.

"What it's really designed to do is help us actually advance educational opportunities for vulnerable Asian American populations," Chandrasekar said. "These are groups that tend to become invisible because we don't do a good job in Illinois collecting data for Asian Americans."

The grant will allow Oakton to establish the Center for Organizing Minority Programs to Advance Student Success. Its goal is to increase student engagement, provide culturally relevant academic advising, improve early college persistence in partnership with local high schools, and implement faculty training and development programs. Oakton will be hiring its first Asian American academic adviser in coming months.

Ethnic carp recipes

Some suburban ethnic restaurants are serving Asian carp up as burgers, tacos, pakoras and kebabs as part of an environmental education campaign about the invasive fish species. Associated Press

Asian carp is on the menu at some suburban ethnic restaurants that are serving up the invasive fish species as burgers, tacos, pakoras and kebabs as part of an environmental education campaign.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is partnering with local elected officials, community organizations and restaurants to get 1,000 people to try Asian carp and raise awareness about the destructive environmental impact of the fast-growing and prolific feeders that out-compete native fish.

"The aim is to show how culturally different cuisines embraced incorporating Asian carp to together tackle the issue of its harm on the Great Lakes ecosystem," Hanover Park Village Trustee Sharmin Shahjahan said.

Kolachi Tandoori Grill in Hanover Park will give away Asian carp pakoras and kebabs from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday for takeout only. Participants must wear masks at all times. For more information, visit

Diversifying reading

Chicago-based Open Books is launching an initiative to help suburban parents, schools and libraries diversify reading collections.

"So many schools, so many households in the suburbs simply don't have books in their homes that reflect Black and brown experiences," said Eric Johnson, Open Books executive director.

The group curates and repurposes used books. It collects roughly 2 million books yearly from throughout the Chicago area and suburbs to either sell to support its literacy program or grant them to children who lack access in under-resourced Chicago neighborhoods. Its Open Books Open Minds program aims to address the lack of diversity in children's literature - only 10% of books portray Black characters - and lack of access as 61% of low-income families have no books at all in their homes.

A study by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin found of 3,200 children's books published in the U.S. in 2018, only 1% featured Indigenous characters, 7% depicted Asian characters, and 10% featured Black characters.

More than half of K-12 public school students are children of color and less than 15% of children's books in the past two decades have contained multicultural characters and storylines, Johnson said.

"There is more that we can do (curating) books featuring Black and Latino characters for suburban children and their parents to begin discussing race more deeply," he added.

Anyone can purchase a set of three or five books for first- through fifth-graders featuring diverse characters and cultures. For each purchase, Open Books will donate an equal number of books in under-resourced communities. For more information, visit

Racial equity programs

Cook County's proposed $6.9 billion fiscal year 2021 budget includes more money for equity and racial justice programs, such as $350,000 for the Public Defender's Immigration Unit and $850,000 for new restorative justice courts under the chief judge.

Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison and Budget Director Annette Guzman discussed the proposed budget during a Facebook Live town hall Friday. The budget allows for investing roughly $100 million over two years in the areas of restorative justice, violence prevention, digital equity, public health, workforce training, affordable transportation and housing assistance.

In July, the county board adopted the Justice for Black Lives Resolution to redirect funds from policing and jails to public services. It outlines eight areas for targeting funding: housing, health care, mental health, restorative justice, job creation, public transit, eviction and foreclosure assistance, and increasing government contracts with businesses owned by women and people of color.

"I'm especially proud of the $80 million of new investments in an equity fund that will help fund community-based programs and services to bring greater racial equity to Cook County," Morrison said.

For more information, visit

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