RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Commonwealth University aims to boost support for its Asian American and Pacific Islander students and, in turn, their sense of belonging and success at the school, with the help of a nearly $2 million grant.

The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education will allow the university to expand its first-generation student center, the You First at VCU First-Generation Student Success and Research Center.

Expanding the center, VCU says, will make way for it to design culturally competent student programming for Asian American and Pacific Islander students “that will increase their sense of belonging, academic success, retention and graduation rates.”

Tomikia LeGrande, Ed.D., vice president for strategy, enrollment management and student success at VCU, said despite the positive overtones, stereotypes that present AAPI students as the “model minority” and a single monolithic group that excels in education, are “damaging for AAPI students.”

“Understanding the diversity that exists among AAPI students, as well as their lived experiences, is key to ensuring their success,” LeGrande said in a statement. “We’ve seen the research and our own institutional data that point to amplified and intersecting barriers for our first-generation and/or low-income AAPI students.”

VCU became eligible for the grant after being named a minority-serving institution in May. The school added that expanding the VCU You First Center will also increase research that accurately reflects “the diversity and intersecting identities of AAPI students.”