Following a rise in xenophobia against Asian Americans at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a recent string of high-profile attacks in the past few months that raised greater awareness of violence against the Asian American community.
Victims faced unprovoked punching, violent shoving and slashing with weapons. Many attacks — which targeted different members of Asian communities, including Chinese, Thai, Filipino and Vietnamese people — have been captured on surveillance camera and shared widely on social media. Some attacks have led to hate crime charges.
The University reached out to leaders of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) organizations and the Multicultural Leadership Council (MLC) on Feb. 17 acknowledging these violent acts and extending its support to the Asian American community at Hopkins.
In the email, Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka emphasized that the University aims to support those who have been affected by the news of the recent attacks.
“The rise in incidents of violence and harassment against members of the APIA community is nothing short of devastating,” she wrote. “As we all strive to find solace from the physical and emotional strain of the pandemic, we must come together with trust and accountability in our community.”
Members of the Student Government Association and the Inter-Asian Council (IAC) released a joint statement on these issues on March 4.
“It is important for us all to be able to identify anti-Asian language, avoid it in our everyday lives, and educate our friends or family who use it,” they wrote. “We ask that you be cognizant of the stress your APIDA friends might be going through right now due to recent events. We’re all one community, and together we can do our part to fight anti-Asian racism here and wherever our journey may take us.”
Senior Charlie Nguyen, co-president of the Vietnamese Student Association, emphasized that the rise in attacks made him more concerned for the safety of his parents, who he says have faced discriminatory attacks in the past.
“When the virus first came around in early 2020, my mom was telling me some of her experiences. Because she owns a nail salon, she actually faces a lot of discrimination on the regular,” he said. “I remember her describing people coming in and asking, ‘Hey, you haven't been to China lately, right?’‘”
Alisha Chen, president of MLC, shared that she has also been worried for her grandmother and parents living in the United States.
She argued that COVID-19 exacerbated sinophobic sentiments and that members of the APIDA community were used as scapegoats for the pandemic. Chen cited public figures calling COVID-19 the “China virus” or “kung flu.”
In an email to The News-Letter, Ho-Fung Hung, a sociology professor at Hopkins, explained that the public has also blamed the Chinese government for the pandemic, which has contributed to the increased aggravation against Asians worldwide.
“It is widely perceived that the Chinese government's early cover-up of the disease is at least partially responsible for letting a local epidemic turn into a global pandemic,” he wrote. “The remedy is to raise people's awareness that Asian Americans are not responsible for the wrongdoing of the Chinese government, and they are the victims of it too.”
According to Hung, history has proven that vulnerable minorities are often blamed for bringing infectious diseases to communities. Examples include the killing of Jewish people during the Black Death in Europe and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003 when Asian communities in the U.S. were also targeted and harassed.
Chen attributed the lack of awareness and media coverage on the recent attacks to the belief that Asians are viewed as the model minority.
“For example, the murder of Vincent Chin by two white men in the 1980s is a case where there was a lack of media coverage about it until our community spoke up about it,” she said. “Our history always illustrates that when violence is inflicted upon our communities, it's often on the impetus of APIDA individuals to speak. The model minority really does not help with that.”
The model minority myth refers to the perception that Asian Americans are more successful and therefore have not faced as many struggles as other communities of color. This aligns with the notion that Asian Americans are viewed as perpetual foreigners due to their inability to fit in with the social constructs of the United States.
Hung emphasized that this myth originates from the exacerbation of prejudice during times of anxiety.
“It is always counterproductive in containing the disease,” he wrote. “Targeting, avoiding, excluding one particular ethnic group only creates unnecessary division that making the management of the diseases more difficult.”
Amy Lin, co-president of the Chinese Student Association (CSA), believes that the model minority myth gives the impression that Asians are passive towards such racial attacks.
“We should try our best to break that model minority myth, not only to establish the identity as the APIDA community but also as the people of color,” she said. “It’s important to get rid of these harmful stereotypes.”
Nguyen speculated that language barriers may be a possible reason as to why older Asian Americans have been targeted in recent attacks. He stated that though there has been an uptick in xenophobic cases since the pandemic, these incidents have always been an issue.
“People in our communities have been working to draw attention to this for a long time, but once this got into the mainstream media when Asian-American celebrities spoke up about it, the issue was brought to a bigger spotlight,” he said.
These actions have prompted activists in New York City and Los Angeles to rally against sinophobic violence.
Joseph Colón, the director for the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), expressed his concerns about the rise in vitriol directed at the APIDA community in an email to The News-Letter.
“We continually seek opportunities to provide platforms that not only provide healthy outlets for sharing, but that also advance discussions about social justice, bias and cultural awareness,” he wrote. “It is our hope that these conversations provide a space for reflecting, education, awareness and support.”
Chen, however, does not believe that the University’s efforts to support Hopkins APIDA individuals have been sufficient.
“To be honest, just a letter about what is happening is not enough. There's a lack of acknowledgment towards the fact that our population is hurting and struggling right now,” she said. “It would be important for us to know that we are supported and heard and seen during these times.”
Junior Michael Lin, co-vice president of CSA, stated that the University should send a message of solidarity to the entire student body and not just the APIDA organizations as a reassurance that their fears are valid and acknowledged. He also believes Hopkins needs to encourage further action.
“For all its activism activities, I would much appreciate if the University could provide resources towards social change (i.e. petitions) or arrange initiatives from an outside speaker to comment on these issues,” he wrote.
Moving forward, Chen plans to set up a healing circle for APIDA groups to process the events.
She noted the importance of individuals taking time to process their emotions and work to understand the history of Asian American relations in order to build a support system and advocate for these communities.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic, and there has just been so much discrimination and oppression coming to the surface. There is a lot of power in solidarity, community building and advancing your efforts,” she said. “Understanding these connections and working to undo the racist functions on our system are really important.”
Amy Lin agreed that a healing circle organized by different student organizations of different backgrounds would be helpful in showing support.
“Not only do I want the different Asian student groups to come together against what’s happening, it would be nice to see all the other student groups from other backgrounds get together to fight against these racial attacks and inequality,” she said. “In the end, it affects not only the Asian community but also all different communities as well.”
According to Colón, OMA is working with IAC to organize a processing circle where students can gather to have conversations and support each other during these difficult times. This event will be held on March 10 at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom.
Michael Lin emphasized that solidarity and cooperation among all communities, regardless of gender, sexuality and religion, is crucial in enacting social justice. He underscored the importance of supporting and educating others not only on APIDA movements but also the movements of other racial or LGBTQ groups.
“APIDA activism is a proponent of change, but it’s only achievable when all interest groups collaborate with each other to support each other’s respective goals. No community deserves to be harmed,” he said.
In cases of emergency, students who encounter bias or violence can call 911 or Campus Safety and Security to report these incidents. Students can also reach out to the Office of Institutional Equity through its online form.