After earning her bachelor’s in international studies and criminal justice in 2011, Nhu-Minh Le planned to get her master’s in criminal justice. Her intention was to study systemic oppression in the criminal justice system, but her plans changed.
Le currently serves as Director of Victim Assistance for the Asian Pacific Development Center (APDC), a Colorado-based nonprofit that helps the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) refugee and immigrant community. “I came upon this field accidentally,” she said. “There are two sides to every story, and there was a gap in understanding victimization. It got me to shift my focus from law enforcement to look at the other side—what happens to the people that have been affected in the crime?”
This question led her to focus on victim advocacy, and in 2014 she earned an MA in Criminal Justice with a specialization in Gender-Based Violence, working with the Center on Domestic Violence within the School of Public Affairs.
APDC was founded in 1980, when a large number of refugees resettled to Colorado after the Vietnam War. A group of AAPI leaders, including social workers and mental health professionals, noticed AAPI immigrants had a high rate of mental health issues, notably post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. They formed APDC to help AAPI immigrants and refugees throughout Colorado by providing a whole-health approach incorporating health, education, and advocacy.
A Day in the Life
Le specializes in providing direct services and case management to survivors of crime such as human trafficking, sexual assault, and child abuse. As the director of victim assistance, she also manages many other tasks, from writing grant proposals and grant reports to garnering financial resources and developing collaborative relationships with other agencies in Denver and throughout Colorado. “We don’t do everything ourselves,” she explained. “We have partnerships with other nonprofit and government agencies to connect marginalized communities with culturally responsive and trauma-informed care.”
Center on Domestic Violence Director Barbara Paradiso said, “Le is doing amazing work opening access to services for immigrant and refugee [gender-based violence] survivors that are often overlooked.”
Through APDC, Le also connects victims of crime with many other resources such as educational, professional, language, mental health, and healthcare services. Her work has a personal connection. As the child of immigrant parents, Le didn’t know how to get help for her parents. “I didn’t know a lot of these resources existed,” she said. “For example, I didn’t know I could get my mother, who didn’t understand English, a job.”
Pre-College Program, Statistics, and Victimization 101
Le began her CU Denver education early as part of the Pre-College Program, which offers college courses and academic support to high-achieving, first-generation middle and high school students who are planning to attend college. “I feel like I’ve been at CU Denver forever—since my sophomore year of high school,” she said. “It really helped me a lot in getting connected with scholarships.”
At CU Denver, Le studied with two professors who particularly influenced her: Angela Gover, PhD, and Callie Rennison, PhD, both professors in the School of Public Affairs. Gover, one of Le’s undergraduate professors, taught “Victimization 101” as Le put it. “That’s where I got my first exposure to the other side, to how one becomes a victim,” Le said. “I appreciated her tenacity in addressing controversial issues head on—it allowed me to think outside the books I was reading.”
Rennison, who was Le’s professor during her graduate studies, taught Le about research and statistics. “Rennison was very analytical,” Le said. “What do the statistics mean? She provided a lens about numbers: the bottom line is that numbers are never everything.”
COVID-19 and Anti-Asian Violence
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which Le believes is a good time to reflect on U.S. history. “Blaming Asian Americans is not a new concept,” she said. “It has always been like that since the first Asian immigrants came over for jobs building the railroads.”
When soma called COVID-19 the “China virus,” anti-Asian sentiment “just became more apparent,” Le said. The current anti-Asian rhetoric and anti-Asian violence that’s occurring is “bringing up historical and generational trauma,” she said. “We need to understand the history that is not often discussed due to the erasure of systems of oppression that has existed in America.”
Advice for Undecided Students
Le shifted her career plans during school. She went from wanting to work in law enforcement to wanting to work in victim assistance. Her advice to undecided (and decided) college students is based on her own educational experience. “First of all, be OK with not knowing what you want to do,” she said. “Acknowledge that it’s uncomfortable and then allow yourself to take the time to find out what your passion is.”