College takes stand against anti-Asian hate crimes

Samuel Boudreau

Senior News Writer

 

On Friday, March 26, members of the College and the Wooster community came together at the Kauke Arch and Wooster Square to march in solidarity against the rise in hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community (AAPI).

The event was organized by multiple student groups on campus: Asian Supporters in Action, Chinese Scholars and Student Association and Women of Images.

On March 16, a gunman targeted three Atlanta-based spas, killing eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent. The victims of the hate crime were Soon Chung Park, age 74; Hyun Jung Grant, age 51; Suncha Kim, age 69; Yong Ae Yue, age 63; Delaina Ashley Yaun, age 33; Paul Andre Michels, age 54; Xiaojie Tan, age 49 and Daoyou Feng, age 44.

The Atlanta shooting is one of the many crimes against the AAPI communities that have intensified in violence and numbers since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States. 

In a recent study, the Pew Research Center found that nearly “four-in-ten Black and Asian adults say people have acted as if they were uncomfortable around them because of their race or ethnicity since the beginning of the outbreak.”

In another recent report, STOP AAPI HATE, a center launched amidst escalating hate crimes against the APPI community, documented 3,795 hate incidents against the AAPI community. The center found types of discrimination to be 68.1 percent verbal harassment, 20.5 percent shunning, 11.1 percent  physical assault, 8.5 percent  civil rights violations and 6.8 percent as online harassment. Intersectionally, the study shows that women were victims 2.3 times more than men.

On Wednesday, March 17, a day after the Atlanta shooting, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Capt. Jay Baker told the press that Long, the gunman, “was pretty much fed up and had been, kind of, at the end of his rope. And yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.” Baker also told reporters that “[Long] apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places. And it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” 

“When I was reading [Capt. Jay Baker’s] response to the incident, it did not sit well with me,” Zoe Seymore ’23, a member of Women of Images and AAPI community told community members at the march.

“I knew something had to be done,” Seymore continued, “because Asian people in America face a lot of oppression, whether it is through being fetishized or being told that we have to do well in school and it is very much overlooked because we’re the ‘model minority.’ I didn’t want to sit around and hear all these stories about the heartbreaking things happening to the Asian community, so that is why the shooting motivated me to pursue action.”

Dr. Ziying You, Assistant Professor of Chinese and East Asian Studies at the College, is Seymore’s faculty advisor for her sophomore research assistant position. Dr. You’s current research focuses on the discrimination faced by Chinese women and adoptees in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. With Seymore’s assistance, Dr. You found that Chinese adoptees and women “experienced different kinds of discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We heard some heartbreaking stories,” Dr. You told the Voice, “The killing in Atlanta just made us all very angry and heartbroken. We wanted to do something for our community and to support our Asian American students.”

During a Sophomore Research Assistant meeting on March 19, Seymore told Dr. You that she wanted to do something, to create a safe space for Asian-American faculty, staff and students to talk about recent events and to heal together.

“We always talk about wanting to do something and then we never get it done. So I wanted to do something and I wanted to start something,” Seymore stated.

Dr. You connected Seymore with Kejun (Coco) Liu ’22 — a Wooster senior and President of Chinese Scholars and Students Association — and Alicia Krielaart ’22, President of Asia Supporters in Action (ASiA).

On March 20, Dr. You emailed all of her colleagues at the College to help plan an event to commemorate the dead in Atlanta and for AAPI students to speak out on their experiences, emotions and reflections. Highly encouraged by a large number of responses from faculty and staff at the College, a planning meeting for an event was organized on Sunday, March 21. 

While the initial plan was to organize a discussion panel, 17 faculty, staff and students decided to plan a March for Asian Lives. Instrumental in planning the march was Dr. Désirée Weber of the Political Science department, who has helped organize daily Black Lives Matter Protests in Downtown Wooster since the death of George Floyd. 

On Monday, March 22, Dr. You sent out a campus-wide email with a poster for the March on Friday, March 26 at the Kauke Arch and the Wooster Square. 

“We are AAPI. Neither white, nor Black. People in this community have always faced hate or unfair treatments. The pandemic has just amplified it.  Among us, people were taunted, pushed, slashed, and now, even murdered. The case in Georgia was just a few of over 3,000 reported incidents in the past year. The increasing hate has been making AAPI feel like foreigners to the country day by day,” Liu writes. 

When asked what it meant to see the initiative from Liu and Seymore, Dr. You said  that “It means a lot to me and I see hope in them. I really admire their courage. They came out and spoke up for their own communities.” “I see their strong power and strong willingness to change the unjust, to build a more just and diverse future and society,” said Dr. You. “They have made significant impacts in our communities and I think they’ll make more influential changes in the future.” 

On the day of the March, Seymore told the Voice that she wasn’t expecting many people to show up. However, nearly 250 people were present. 

“I was very happy. I felt very loved and supported by everyone,” said Seymore. 

Liu agrees with Seymore and said that the turnout was a securing message for those they are worried about at the College. “The community is sending a message to me that I can [graduate] without worrying too much, without carrying that weight, without trying to help everyone with the stress that I have, which is impossible, so it is a huge support.” 

In their speech at the Wooster square, Liu touched on the intensifying acts of discrimination that they and their family faced since the pandemic. Liu told the crowd that some people in Wooster stared, spit and yelled, “Go back to China,” at them. On campus, Liu said that someone threw a Chinese flag in the trash in the language suite in Luce Hall. Liu also revealed that their nearest cousin was physically attacked. These acts of discrimination directed towards Liu led to severe depression, weight loss and panic attacks. Fortunately, through faith and love with their host family, Liu recovered during the summer. 

“This country has beautiful lies about equality and freedom,” Liu told the march, “the Atlanta shooting ten days ago and the spike of thousands of hate-fueled attacks against the AAPI community is painful, frustrating and unacceptable.” 

While hate incidents intensified against the AAPI community since the start of the pandemic, racist and xenophobic acts of discrimination against the community have occurred for centuries. 

In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers, and during the 1918 influenza pandemic, Anti-Asians were blamed for the outbreak. In the 1940s, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps.

Mochi Meadows’ ’24, a speaker at the march, explained how their grandmother spent two years of her childhood in an internment camp and their great uncle was born in a camp. 

“This narrative of assimilation that America has pushed on the Asian American community since day one is still continuing to this day and it is disgusting and filled with hate.”

Meadows told the Voice that “The conversations I have with my Asian American friends is sometimes about discrimination, but it is more about erasure of identities because there’s a pushing of this ‘model minority narrative,’ so we occupy this weird space in-between outright discrimination, racism, exclusion and not full integration into what is considered a social norm.”

When also asked what they hope students take away from the march, Liu said that we must understand that racism is not “away [from us], but that it is around us  … it’s everywhere.”

Liu stated that, as a community, we need to focus less on stereotyping people and more on building personal connections and relationships, improving how we teach Asian American and Black history in textbooks, responding more effectively to hate crimes against the AAPI community and eliminating anti-voting laws enacted by state legislators. “All of these are happening and there can be a better solution as a country, as a person.”

On the College level, Liu noticed that “many Asian Americans don’t master English and don’t understand what is written, what support is given, and what they can do for it. The infrastructure can improve for them.”

“Many times, I found that international, especially Asian, students are not confident about their language,” Liu stated.

When Liu came to the United States five years ago, the first sentence they said to their high school class was “I am sorry that my English is not good and please bear with me … please point out my mistakes.”

Now, in a group project for their education course at Wooster, a first-year Vietnamese student told Liu and the group they were in that “I’m sorry if I make any mistake. My English is bad, and I am so sorry.”

“I hope people take away from this that it’s going to take a long time and it’s going to take all of us coming together and working towards creating that change,” Seymore noted.“Continuing to try to do the best you can, even if it’s just asking the community, ‘what can we do better?’ Just knowing that someone cares enough to reach out, I think is a really good way to start showing your support.”

While the march brought hundreds of community members together, Seymore made it clear that the memorial was just the starting point in creating positive change at Wooster and beyond.

After the march, Dr. You and members of the College community organized an anti-racism reading group. The group meets on Sundays from 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. and is open to the Wooster Public. If you’re interested in joining the “STOP AAPI HATE” teams’ group, you can email Dr. You at zyou@wooster.edu.

“Even in Chinese and East Asian Studies, there are not too many professors that work in that department and not a whole bunch of classes,” Seymore stated. “Our main goal is to educate people, educate everyone at Wooster to let them be aware of discrimination towards minorities, towards women, and towards other marginalized groups.”

In her closing remarks at the march, Seymore told the crowd that “now is our time to start building a new future for us and our children. Things are not going to change over night. One march and one speech wont change systems. It will take time and all of us working together. With the right people and the right [steps], I believe we can begin to make this world a better place.”