By Sarina Deb
Amid a wave of hate crimes against Asian Americans, members of the Stanford Asian and Asian American community are speaking out and calling on the Stanford community to serve as allies in the fight against anti-Asian discrimination.
“I was devastated to hear each incident during the surge and am still processing the amount of grief that our community is facing,” second-year medical student Vivian Lou said.
Although overall reports of hate crimes fell by 7% in the last year, a new study based on police department statistics across major U.S. cities found a 150% surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, with New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and San Jose all seeing their highest reports of anti-Asian hate crimes in at least five years.
These numbers are reflective of a growing trend of discrimination against Asian Americans during the pandemic. Starting in late 2019, Asian Americans across the country have reported incidents of verbal and physical harassment, and violations of their civil rights. Data from Stop AAPI Hate, an organization dedicated to tracking incidents of anti-Asian discrimination, shows that verbal harassment and shunning make up the two largest proportions of the total incidents reported.
Most recently, the Asian American community was gripped by shock and anger on Tuesday when a lone gunman killed eight people — six of whom were Asian women — in three shootings at Atlanta-area massage parlors.
President Biden responded to these attacks in a Twitter message, writing, “We don’t yet know the motive, but what we do know is that the Asian-American community is feeling enormous pain tonight. The recent attacks against the community are un-American. They must stop.”
Stanford community members, including vice provost for student affairs Susie-Brubaker Cole, have condemned the Atlanta attacks and the broader trend of anti-Asian discrimination.
“We want to echo President Tessier-Lavigne’s statement in support of Stanford’s Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander community, in the context of a broader, deeply disturbing trend of anti-Asian racism and violence that we’ve seen around the country, including here in the Bay Area,” Brubaker-Cole wrote in a March 18 email. “We condemn these acts of violence.”
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) clinician and Asian American liaison Helen Hsu also expressed horror over recent events, but she was “unsurprised” by the Atlanta shooting.
“There was anti-Asian harassment even before the pandemic, even on Stanford’s campus,” Hsu said. “And then the pandemic hit and the stereotyping rhetoric heated up even more.”
‘A whole other level of fear’
Hsu highlighted the potential long-term and damaging mental health effects of witnessing discrimination, explaining that the students she saw at CAPS were “worried about going outside and afraid of their families getting harassed.”
According to Hsu, there is a strong body of research on the stress of being a minority in America, which suggests that dealing with invalidation and microaggressions have a significant impact on wellbeing — both physical and mental.
“We have students who talk about very painful instances of racism and harassment that often linger with them for years and years,” she said. “And right now in regards to hearing about and witnessing harassment there’s this whole other level of fear among students in the AAPI community for the safety of their family members.”
For dealing with these painful instances, Hsu recommended that students call the CAPS hotline, seek support from friends and family and donate money to initiatives fighting discrimination to “feel like there’s something you can do.” For longer-term approaches, she championed engaging in therapy and advocating for policy pushes that protect anti-Asian hate and harassment.
Hsu said she hoped students would reach out for support if they needed it.
“This is not a time to bear things on your own,” she said. “We’re going to be dealing with the pandemic and racism for a while, and I don’t want students to underestimate that because they’ve gotten used to it.”
As do many students Hsu works with, eighth-year sociology Ph.D. candidate Jeff Sheng M.A. ’15 M.S. ’20 has experienced discrimination, especially during the onset of the pandemic. But he has been particularly worried about his elderly parents.
Sheng said that he had heard about attacks towards Asians in other cities and would not let his parents run errands for a few months, as he feared they would become targets of discrimination. He even moved in with his parents to help out during the beginning of the pandemic. Sheng stressed that he does not think people realize how hard witnessing instances of discrimination and harassment has been for the Asian American community.
“Among my Chinese American and Asian American friends, they have expressed to me this level of hurt and feeling like they don’t belong in the United States,” Sheng said. “And it’s sad for me because I realize that for many of them, they were born here, are American citizens, and don’t know of another country.”
Building allyship and multiracial solidarity
Community members said that allyship with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community would be critical in combatting discrimination and harassment and called upon other Stanford affiliates to provide support to AAPI members and engage in discussions on these issues.
“I think all support is important, especially from other communities of color who have each been victimized in similar ways, by probably the same kinds of people,” comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu said.
Lou said she was thankful for the allyship and support that other Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community members have provided during this time, saying, “Sometimes it’s the small interactions and check-ins that altogether provide healing and restoration — folks who may not be directly involved in these communities checking in with their friends and classmates who are.”
Hsu added that showing solidarity with Asian Americans would be critical, especially in combating the model minority myth and supporting those who have lost family members to COVID-19.
Sheng championed building multiracial solidarity, emphasizing the complex but important step of uplifting both Asian American and Black voices in the fight for racial equality. He explained that in the middle of these movements is a historical challenge between these two groups that have often been pitted against one another.
“Of many reasons for not speaking out more, one additional one that occurred during the pandemic was that some Asian Americans were hesitant in talking about anti-Asian racism so that they would not take up time and attention away from much-needed conversations around the injustices against Black Americans,” Sheng said. “It’s hard to voice this in a year in which we’ve seen a coup attempt in the Capitol, Black Americans shot and killed and protesters in support of Black Lives Matter beaten — it’s very hard to insert yourself as an injustice in a landscape like this one, where I feel safe talking to a police officer in a way that my Black friends don’t.”
Nevertheless, Sheng said, people need to also step up to address anti-Asian discrimination.
“When Donald Trump was going off about Kung Flu and the China virus, you saw pockets of liberal America say oh wow, that’s wrong, but there was no overwhelming response from leaders and businesses, and that was wrong,” Sheng said.
In light of the surge of hate crimes against Asian-Americans, several Stanford schools released statements condemning discrimination and violence against the AAPI community.
Lou praised Stanford for addressing the discrimination but said that “statements alone cannot do the work.”
“There is always systemic work to be done to address the real roots of anti-racism efforts and white supremacy in academic institutions,” Lou said. “Student wellness and especially support for AAPI student mental health is crucial during this time, and more support in these areas would also be helpful.”
Palumbo-Liu added that it is often challenging to see the support that exists while many community members are off-campus. However, he said, simple messaging is critical.
“Messages that connect these attacks to other forms of racism perform an educational role as well,” Palumbo-Liu said. “Support for academic programs and community centers is also important, so we create more learning and sharing opportunities.”
Courtesy of Helen Hsu, resources on harassment and hate towards Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders can be found here.