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Asian student leaders, U.Va. community respond to increase in anti-Asian violence nationwide

Six Asian women were killed at a shooting in Atlanta Tuesday as part of the recent increase in anti-Asian sentiment

A candlelight vigil will be held in honor of the victims of the Atlanta shooting starting Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in McIntire Amphitheater to give community members the opportunity to reflect on the recent acts of violence directed at members of the Asian American community.
A candlelight vigil will be held in honor of the victims of the Atlanta shooting starting Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in McIntire Amphitheater to give community members the opportunity to reflect on the recent acts of violence directed at members of the Asian American community.


In a joint statement released Thursday, the Asian Student Union, Asians Revolutionizing Together, Asian Leaders Council, Asian Pacific American Leadership Training Institute and Women’s Asian American Leadership Initiative responded to the murders of six Asian women by a white gunman Tuesday. 

At least eight people — six of whom were Asian and seven of whom were women — were killed by a white gunman during the series of shootings, which occurred in three different spas in the Atlanta area. Robert Aaron Long, who confessed to the shootings, has been arrested and charged with at least four counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.

The student groups directly attributed the murders to the “anti-Asian stance that is so deeply embedded in white supremacist frameworks and ideals,” citing that both the past and current presidential adminstration have become increasingly hostile towards China through both military expansion and inflamatory rhetoric.

“Violence towards Asians and Asian Americans in this present moment can, in no way, be separated from the long histories of U.S. militarism, imperialism and racial capitalism,” the joint statement said. “Anti-Asian violence is a core tenet of the American settler colonial project, and it is under these conditions that white supremacy thrives.”

According to Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting project started at the beginning of the pandemic to track the increase in racial violence, the group has received more than 3,795 reports of anti-Asian violence between March 19, 2020 and Feb. 18, 2021. 

Members of the University community also expressed solidarity with victims of anti-Asian violence and outrage at the spike of this violence in the U.S in an open letter to University administration. In the letter, community members encouraged the University to invest in more anti-racist education, proactively address the sources of white supremacy and protect those targeted by violence. The letter currently contains nearly 1,500 signatures from students, professors and alumni and it will be sent to the University administration following its closure at midnight on Thursday.

“We urge our University community to come together and proactively address the sources of such hatred and protect those targeted by such violence, and to do so without engaging in any zero-sum racist strategy that pits Asian Americans against other minorities and groups engaged in their own struggles against racism and oppression,” the statement said. 

A student-organized candlelight vigil will be held in honor of the victims of the Atlanta shooting starting Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in McIntire Amphitheater to give community members the opportunity to reflect on the recent acts of violence directed at members of the Asian American community. All members of the University and Charlottesville communities are invited to attend and encouraged to bring flowers if they are able. The vigil will continue throughout the night and attendees can come and go as they please, but organizers have asked that any attendees comply with the University’s masking and social distancing requirements. There will be no open flames — only LED candles will be used. 

Kevin McDonald — vice president for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Partnerships — along with Emily Springston — associate vice president for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights — and Dean of Students Allen Groves sent an email to students Thursday, mourning the lives taken in Atlanta and stating that the University stands in “firm solidarity” with the Asian and Asian Pacific Islander Desi American populations, “who have experienced acts of racism, xenophobia and related harassment since the COVID pandemic first began.” The email expressed that the community must work to promote inclusion and denounce violence.

“Anti-Asian and APIDA harassment and violence must be challenged and stopped, and each of us has a role to play,” the statement said. “We must do the hard work that will help ensure that our future is different, more just, more accepting and more inclusive.  The future we envision is one in which the devaluing of the basic humanity of others is no longer accepted.” 

Second Year Council also sent an email to students Thursday condemning violence against the APIDA community. The council called the Atlanta shooting “a hate crime fueled by xenophobia and racist hypersexualization” and reflected upon the long history of discrimination against the APIDA community, with hate crimes increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The American culture of white supremacy perpetuates racist and xenophobic sentiment through rhetoric such as the ‘Chinese’” virus and the mythology of the ‘model-minority,’’ the statement said. “Several APIDA students at U.Va. and their families have felt the impact of this fearful environment. We ask that you reach out to your APIDA friends and fellow students in this difficult time to offer support.” 

The statement added that any strategies supporting the APIDA community must not lead to harm coming to Black and Brown communities. 

“Pan-ethnic solidarity is absolutely necessary to creating an equitable, safe, and welcoming future for all,” the statement said.

Additional statements have been made by other student bodies on Grounds, including Third Year Council.

Last month, ASU also released a statement denouncing the hatred and violence those in the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American group have faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Other Asian student groups and Asian American student leaders have also called on the University to express more support for and give more funding to the APIDA community, including for the Asian Pacific American Studies minor.

The statement cited specific nationwide instances of violence against Asian Americans — as a response to these attacks, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution in September “condemning all forms of anti-Asian sentiment as related to COVID-19.” 

Attacks towards Asian Americans have also occurred locally. In March 2020, one Chinese international student at the University reported that eggs were thrown at her and a friend while walking past the Aquatic and Fitness Center.

“There has been a dramatic increase in anti-Asian sentiment across the United States since the pandemic started, which has led to acts of hatred and violence against the APIDA community,” the statement said. “Rhetoric from the previous [presidential] administration, labeling the pandemic as the ‘China Virus’ or the ‘Wuhan Virus,’ has catalyzed these attacks, and main-stream coverage of these incidents has been disgustingly abysmal.”

A COVID-19 email update sent by Dean of Students Allen Groves April 5, 2020 expressed support for international students, many of whom were unable to return home at the beginning of the pandemic and encouraged them to report discriminatory interactions.

“For our international students in particular, we want to underscore our condemnation of, and resolve to combat, any acts of bias or xenophobia against them,” the email said. “If you have been the target of such an act, please report it through the University’s Just Report It system.”

The ASU statement encouraged the University to invest in accountability structures that emphasize “healing and repair rather than violence and punishment” instead of focusing on expanding the size of police departments.

The ASU also recognized the concurrent discrimination and “harrowing experiences” that the University’s Black and Latinx communities face and encouraged these groups to stand together.

“We are all facing the common enemy of racism and white supremacy, and it can only be taken down if we band together,” the statement said.

Sanjeev Kumar, ASU vice-president and second-year College student, said the ASU was prompted to write the statement because there has been a “dramatic increase” in the number of xenophobic and racist attacks toward Asian Americans in 2021 thus far. The United Nations reported more than 1,800 racist incidents against Asian Americans in the United States from March to May 2020 while the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University reported nearly a 150 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in America’s largest cities between 2019 and 2020.

Additionally, Kumar said there wasn’t a “lot of movement and mobility” from the University community to bring attention to the attacks.

“Since 2021 started … we saw even more cases [of hate against Asian Americans] coming about,” Kumar said. “It didn’t seem like there was a lot of attention on it. As an organization that stands on advocating for Asian Americans we thought it was important to bring awareness and bring light to a lot of these difference instances.”

The end of the statement includes resources including links to donate to families of those impacted by the violence, alternative options to calling the police for those not in immediate danger, how to report hate incidents and mental health resources for APIDA community members. 

“There’s definitely a negative stigma against mental health in the Asian American community, so there are a lot of different resources and opportunities that can allow Asian Americans to speak with other Asian Americans in the community to talk about how they’re feeling … during a time like this,” Kumar said.

Student Council passed SR21-10 — A Resolution in Support of the Asian Student Union’s Statement Denouncing The Increase in Violence Against the APIDA Community — earlier this month. The resolution urged the University to increase funding for Multicultural Student Services, which provides safe spaces for and amplifies the voices of the Asian-American community.

Kumar also said he believes the University should provide more funding to mental health resources for Asian American students in the Multicultural Student Center. He said one way to support Asian American students would be for the University to establish a separate space for Asian American students to connect with one another, as it has with establishing the LGBTQ Center and Latinx Student Center. 

In an email to The Cavalier Daily, University spokesperson Wes Hester said that Counseling and Psychological Services has added more mental health services specifically to serve Asian American students this year. 

“In addition to hiring new staff this past year, CAPS also added more options to its support spaces, including an International Students Support Circle, Students of Color Support Circle and Support Circle for South Asian Students,” Hester said. “CAPS is currently in the process of seeking two additional counselors and is recruiting on a number of diverse job boards, including the Asian American Psychological Association.”

The University first opened the MSC in 2016, but students advocated for a larger space. The MSC and LGBTQ Center — previously located in the basement of Newcomb Hall — were relocated to larger spaces in February 2020 which is when the Latinx Student Center was established. 

“We want the community to … stand with us as well as to condemn the actions of these attacks and to ensure that we have a platform to bring awareness about this and to hopefully turn the tide,” Kumar said. “Understanding that we have the support from the University as well as the University community would greatly mean a lot to the Asian Student Union, as well as the Asian American community as a whole.”

Serena Wood, co-chair of the Asian Leaders Council and third-year College student, also said the University should listen to APIDA students’ demands as expressed in the ALC’s 2018 report titled “We Are Not Invisible: A Report for Academic Reform.” The report called for more classes related to the APIDA community, for the creation of Asian Pacific American Studies and Latinx majors and for more faculty members of color to be hired, among other reforms.

ASU’s recently released report on the demographics of APIDA students showed that the largest groups of APIDA students on Grounds are Chinese Americans and Indian Americans, who made up 29.7 percent and 22.8 percent of all respondents, respectively. Korean Americans, Vietnamese Americans and Filipino Americans made up 16 percent, 9.6 percent and 7.2 percent of all respondents, respectively. One of the report’s aims was to show the breakdown of ethnicities within the APIDA community and to emphasize the differences between those from different ethnic backgrounds at the University. The report’s statistics are based on a survey from 2020.

Despite the ALC issuing requests directly to the University in its 2018 report, Wood said that no major institutional changes have been made to support Asian American students.

“In the end it's up to how willing the University is to be susceptible and understand and support those kinds of initiatives,” Wood said. “I think that’s mostly been lacking and not present.”

After the report was initially released, Wood said the University expressed interest in hiring more diverse faculty and creating an American Studies department — which was previously a program located under the English department — but has since not taken enough steps to support APIDA students and studies. Departmental status streamlines the process of hiring professors because major and minor programs do not have to go through a different, overreaching department. 

Additionally, there is only one course — Intro to Asian American Studies — and one professor — Sylvia Chong — that is directly related to the Asian American Studies minor, which was approved in 2004. Two professors were initially hired to teach courses for the minor a few years ago, but Chong is the only one who still teaches at the University.

Intro to Asian American Studies focuses on the history of Asians and Asian Americans in America and their treatment in society. The course is popular and has regularly reached full enrollment capacity each year it's been taught. Despite this popularity, ASU's survey on APIDA students showed that 80 percent of its nearly 900 respondents have never heard of the Asian American Studies minor. 

In an email statement to The Cavalier Daily, Christian McMillen, associate dean for the social sciences and professor of history, said that bringing Asian American scholars into the American Studies program is a priority focus. 

“In recent years, we’ve worked with current faculty to support and develop American Studies in meaningful ways,” McMillen said. “This has included the shift from program to academic department status and hiring a senior scholar in Latinx Studies. Currently, as we’re working on finalizing budgets, we are prioritizing the curricular needs of all departments.”

In addition to action from the University, Wood said that students can also be valuable in uplifting Asian American studies. 

“Allies are proven to be so helpful,” Wood said. “Unfortunately, white voices are taken as more valuable and using that privilege to benefit minority people is something that I think is an obligation and uplifting those voices that are calling for change … is so so important.”

This story has been updated with additional information about Saturday’s vigil.

Maryann Xue contributed to this reporting.