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'Identify and call out this racism': Students stand in solidarity with AAPI community against anti-Asian narrative

Asian organizations on Grounds support fellow Asian-Americans, urge greater student awareness and University action

In the wake of rising anti-Asian racism and the recent surge of hate incidents across the country, the University’s Asian organizations have come together to publicly decry these horrific events.
In the wake of rising anti-Asian racism and the recent surge of hate incidents across the country, the University’s Asian organizations have come together to publicly decry these horrific events.

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Just last month, six women of Asian descent were killed in a targeted shooting in the Atlanta area. Since the start of the pandemic, Asian American hate crimes have been on the rise. President Trump’s rhetoric, calling COVID-19 the “Kung-Flu” and attributing the cause of the pandemic to the Asian population, has only magnified and perpetuated the country’s anti-Asian narrative. 

Data released by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino found that hate crimes directed towards Asian Americans have more than doubled in the U.S. from 2019 to 2020. While the first uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes occured in March and April of last year, research from the nonprofit organization Asian American and Pacific Islanders Data illustrates that Trump’s use of racist rhetoric about COVID-19 had a significant impact on how people both perceive and behave towards Asian Americans. 

“On a personal level, I'm very scared because a lot of attacks have targeted the most vulnerable of our community, including seniors, immigrants, those at the working-class level,” said Valerie Young, former president of the Asian Student Union and fourth-year College student. “My parents fall into some of those categories, and I am very worried about them having to face discrimination in their everyday life.”

In the wake of rising anti-Asian racism and the recent surge of hate incidents across the country, the University’s Asian organizations came together to publicly decry these horrific events. 

In response to the Atlanta shooting, ASU collaborated with other Asian organizations on Grounds to release a joint statement expressing their outrage and calling for greater University accountability. Young and Kirtana Pathak — fourth-year College student and former vice president of ASU — established the 2020 Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Student Survey Report. The report brings to light the challenges and discrimination the APIDA community faces and encourages University administrators, faculty and student activists to take action. In addition, the survey provides a data-rich illustration of the University’s APIDA population in an attempt to correct for the “model minority myth” that masks the challenges faced by Asian minority groups.

“At U.Va., we just have to keep encouraging students and faculty around us to be cognizant of the racism that minority students face,” Young said. “It’s very easy for people to ignore the plights of others and turn their backs, but it is very important for everyone to stand up against discrimination, no matter who it is towards.”

Raising awareness includes debunking the model minority myth, a stereotype that paints Asian Americans as a problem-free minority group that has achieved a great deal of success as a race. The myth often overly generalizes the Asian American community as primarily East Asian, which overlooks the South Asian, Southeast Asian and Central Asian ethnicities as distinct members of the community, too. Worse, this stereotype brands all Asian Americans as studious, smart and successful — a model minority who has accomplished the “American Dream.” 

Though the stereotype casts Asian Americans in a favorable light, perpetuating a narrative that portrays millions of Asian Americans with such a broad brush of universal success is damaging for both Asian Americans and other marginalized groups. The economic struggles and realities of systemic racism that Asian Americans endure are often obscured as a result. Moreover, the model minority myth makes it difficult for all minority groups and students of color to stand in solidarity together. 

“As an Asian person, our role or position in the United States is complex because we are a minority but oftentimes society doesn’t treat us as such,” said Amy Liao, Chinese Student Association member and third-year College student. “I think the rise of hate crimes highlights how even though white America treats us as the model minority, these hate crimes show that people still don’t consider us as American as a white American.”

Many Asian American students on Grounds have expressed how emotionally draining the continuation of these targeted hate crimes has been. Moreover, these events have affected the daily experiences of some Asian American students. Justin Gou, CSA president and fourth-year Engineering student, explained that some of his peers have been scared to go out alone in big cities and public spaces. 

“It is very scary to know that the outside world sees you differently than how you see yourself,” Liao said. “Now going out in public I am much more aware of my Asian identity if I am in a room of all white people.”

To support the University’s Asian American community, CSA has been releasing weekly newsletters to keep their members briefed on recent events and provide resources to the community. Anyone can sign up for the newsletter on their website.

The CSA executive board is currently communicating with the University’s Second Year Council about hosting a joint AAPI hate awareness event that will be open to the entire University community. The event is currently planned to be held virtually at the end of April with the goal of supporting fellow Asian American students and encouraging the University to do the same. 

Sanjeev Kumar, ASU president and second-year McIntire student, explained that ASU has been trying to reach out to other cultural organizations such as the Black Student Alliance and Latinx Student Alliance to get their support on the issue as well. In part due to the model minority myth, other minority communities are unjustly pinned against the generalization of the “model minority” — a sentiment that ASU is striving to change. Despite the fact that minority groups have different histories of oppression and endured different hardships, this myth pits the successes of Asian Americans against other marginalized populations. This not only undermines opportunities to build a multiracial coalition, but it also overlooks the one commonality in the histories of these minority groups — systematic oppression from white supremacy. 

“We want our members to talk about what has been affecting our communities and see the similarities about how white supremacy has always brought down our communities,” Kumar said. “Being able to hold events with [other cultural organizations] and talk about what is going on will allow us to hopefully have more power in numbers and push the administration to take more action.” 

Appalled by the recent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes and disappointed with the University’s response, Asian organizations on Grounds want to push the administration to take more action. Although a student-organized candlelight vigil was held in the McIntire Amphitheater following the Atlanta shooting, the only University action thus far has been in the form of statements by administration. 

“I feel like the University should make sure that people in the AAPI community feel like they are behind us,” said Abby Castro, CSA member and second-year Engineering student. “The University [is] staying very closed on the matter. I understand that it is probably because they are focusing on the COVID-19 issue but this is just as bad and racism is not OK.”

Listening to the demands of Asian students and faculty, according to Young and Kumar, should include an increase in funding and expansion of the Asian American Studies minor in the American Studies department, which was introduced in 2004 but currently only pertains to one relevant class under the solo instruction of Assoc. English Prof. Sylvia Chong.

Asian organizations call for increases in Asian American faculty and staff, especially within the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services. Lastly, they advocate for the creation of an Asian American student center, which already exists in many schools across the country such as Virginia Tech, Stanford and Yale. 

“Hopefully, the University administration can see that it is now more than ever critical for Asian Americans to have this space where they feel safe to discuss these issues,” Kumar said.

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