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“Our HMoob American College Paj Ntaub”

An ongoing qualitative participatory action research project conducted in partnership with a student organization at UW-Madison called the HMoob American Studies Committee (HMASC) that examines the sociocultural and institutional factors impacting the college experiences of HMoob American students. The term “Paj Ntaub,” or story cloth, is a narrative pictographic representation in fabric of the experiences of the HMoob people, which often address their history during the U.S. wars in Southeast Asia and as refugees. We call our study “Our HMoob American College Paj Ntaub” because this study presents the stories of the lives of HMoob American college students. The study uses interviews and observations with HMoob American college students to better understand the college experiences of HMoob American students through their voices and lived experiences.

Any questions about our project, email us at:

Journal Articles
Journal Articles
Blog Posts
Blog Posts

Research Highlights

Year 1 (2018-2019)

During our first year as a team, we developed the initial iteration of the Our HMoob American Paj Ntaub study and interviewed 27 HMoob American students who were currently enrolled as undergraduate students at UW-Madison. We found that the HMoob American students who participated in our study often reported feeling unwelcome or excluded at UW-Madison. Participants stated that they felt the campus community did not have any knowledge of HMoob history and culture, which put HMoob American students in the position of educating their peers and professors on who the HMoob are.

Additionally, participants reported experiencing macro- and/or microaggressions in classrooms, residence halls, and on the streets near campus. Our participants also reported feeling unwelcome in certain schools, buildings, and professional student organizations, which has significant implications on HMoob American students’ academic majors, future career plans, and professional social networks. In contrast, the spaces in which our participants stated that they felt most comfortable, safe, and welcome were student support programs, race-specific student organizations, and HMoob specific classes. Participants described these spaces as places where they were able to cultivate their ethnic identity and find mentorship and other support systems. We published our findings in a public report and presentation.

Year 2 (2019-2020)

Paj Ntaub Poster from Grand Challenges 2019-2020The team received a seed grant from the UW-Madison Grant Challenges competition to continue our work. We used our previous findings to focus our research questions on the sociocultural, demographic, and institutional factors that influence the college experiences, educational successes, and post-college transitions of Hmoob American students at UW-Madison. We expanded our sample and interviewed 36 additional current HMoob American students as well as 31 former students including alumni and students who dropped out or transferred and 4 faculty, staff, and/or administrators who directly with HMoob students.

From this data, we developed a set of participant narratives that document how institutional and socio-cultural factors—such as institutional gatekeeping procedures, professional and peer advising and social support, cultural and family expectations, and campus cultures—play key roles in students’ discipline and program choices, sense of belonging on campus, job market preparation, and general educational “success.”

Additionally, because our data collection was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we tried to make the most out of this unforeseen crisis and interviewed 17 HMoob American college students at UW-Madison about how they were experiencing the pandemic in its early months. Some of the themes we’ve identified in this data are that HMoob American college students experienced an increase in: racism, mental stress and anxiety from concerns over the future, difficulty finding employment and paying for schooling, and family responsibility to assist their parents (often refugees who do not speak English as a first language). We believe sharing the stories of these minoritized students, many of whom come from low-income refugee families, is vital to ensure their future educational, social, and economic possibilities.

Year 3 (2020-2021)

As the team continued to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, we dedicated most of Year 3 to analysis and writing. Namely, we produced two student-led reports meant for non-academic audiences. The first, “Weaving the Paj Ntaub for future HMoob students: A complied collection of advice” shared insights from our HMoob student participants as a way to pass on knowledge and advice to future students. This advice encompassed ideas around lack of familiarity with campus, making career decisions, experiences tied specifically to multidimensional identities, and stereotypes associated with attending UW-Madison. The second, “The Necessity of Ethnic Studies: Prioritizing Ethnic Studies During COVID-19 and Beyond” uses our data to demonstrate the impact and importance of ethnic studies courses for students of color and advocates for increased support for ethnic studies courses.

Year 4 (2021-2022)

The team received a grant focused on Understanding and Reducing Inequalities from the UW-Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation which allowed us to put our findings into action and support advocacy for policy and practice changes to better meet the needs of HMoob students. We continued data analysis and also interviewed academic advisors who work with HMoob students at UW-Madison. We also presented our work to the Hmong Studies Consortium and at the 2022 Advising and Career Services Conference, and hosted a Social Justice Retreat that brought together HMoob college student activists and allies from around Wisconsin. 

Year 5 (2022-2023)

The team received a 2.2 million dollar National Science Foundation grant to expand our work and investigate the experiences of HMoob students throughout the UW system through a mixed-methods approach with special attention on the experiences of HMoob college students in STEM majors.