A panelist of professors and students held a roundtable discussion on violence against Asian Americans titled “Anti-Asian Violence and Anti-Racist Coalition Building” on March 25. The event was sparked by a gunman opening fire at three Asian American-owned spas and murdering eight people, six of whom were Asian women on March 15.
The panelists explored the intersection of hate against Asian Americans with systemic racism and ways for the Hopkins community to build anti-racist alliances.
The panel consisted of Professors Erin Chung, Clara Han, Ho-Fung Hung and Yumi Kim, as well as PhD student Tara Tran and senior Katy Oh. Tobie Meyer-Fong, a professor of history, moderated the event. Hopkins Programs in East Asian Studies (EAS); Racism, Immigration and Citizenship (RIC); Women, Gender and Sexuality (WGS) and the Department of History’s Black World Seminar all co-sponsored the event.
Han said that a lack of University support propelled her to organize the discussion. During the event she read out a joint statement composed by representatives of EAS, RIC and WGS condemning the acts of violence and calling for greater solidarity and transformative justice among the Hopkins community.
In the statement, the representatives also strongly urged the administration to reconsider its plans for a private police force.
“It draws from the pernicious use of the model minority myth to justify racial hierarchies; and, ultimately, it makes no one safer,” they wrote. “More policing is not the answer to anti-Asian violence; strengthening anti-racism and anti-sexism solidarity is.”
Oh also expressed her disappointment with the University’s performative letters, arguing that the Office of Institutional Equity does not respond efficiently to students who report cases of racism. She also said that she was frustrated when she was told by the University that there were mental health resources, without any root problems being addressed.
She called on her peers to reflect on their conversations and the vocabulary they use when speaking about sensitive matters.
“I am also always learning how small actions and vocabularies are crucial in dismantling the dominant institution at hand,” Oh said. “Instead, think through what future solidarity’s inaction-ended language might look like. The weight of these events are difficult, and as I speak, I apologize for my tears.”
Sophomore Anson Zhou attended the event and was comforted to see many faculty members coming together in support of the Asian community.
“I was really shocked to see the number of Asian professors that we had at the University,” he said. “It’s pretty clear that there are a lot of Asian students, but I rarely see Asian professors who are vocal about social issues. It’s very heartening to hear them talking.”
Chung shared her own apprehensions about her race. An event as distressing as the Atlanta killings, she said, was bound to occur as violence against the Asian community increased with COVID-19 infection rates.
“Personally, when the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] announced that everyone in the United States should wear a face covering last spring, I was very worried that wearing a face mask would feed into these images of Asians as carriers of the Chinese virus, thus making Asians even more vulnerable to phobic and racist attacks,” she said.
Han emphasized that the media has played a major role in exacerbating anti-Asian attitudes by depicting Asian women in a negative light and portraying them as sex workers whose lives are disposable because of their work. However, there is no evidence that any of the Asian women murdered were involved in sex work.
“The fact that the mainstream media latched on to the massage parlor as a site of sex work and fueled the notion that the gunman had a cold sexual addiction blatantly shows how it’s set the stage for the sexualization of the victims while denying the misogynistic racism that propelled the murders,” she said.
Chung cited the Page Act of 1875, which specifically prohibited Chinese women from entering the U.S., and the history of prostitution at U.S. military bases in Asia as examples of this issue.
Kim highlighted that the U.S. occupation of Japan led to many cases of sexual violence and legalized prostitution among army men and Japanese women. Some soldiers brought Japanese women home to the U.S. as wives. According to Kim, the women coming to the U.S. were fleeing countries devastated by imperial wars and poverty.
“How we got here is intimately related to how we end up with the massacre in Atlanta, a massacre that should get us thinking about how sexual violence against Asian women has been part of a deep and long colonial history of war against Asian countries and communities,” she said. “These deeper histories and linkages are what lead to such tragedies because you can’t fight a war unless you dehumanize the people.”
Junior Brandon Wong was especially intrigued to learn about the historical events that demonstrate a pattern of anti-Asian acts.
“It was jarring to me that this happened relatively recently, and it shows how anti-Asian sentiment is still present in today’s world,” he said.
Even though episodes of violence against the Asian community have always led to political mobilization by the Asian community, Chung stressed that these acts are not a monolithic experience for all Asians.
“I can’t separate myself from these incidents just because I don’t have a grandfather in the United States or because I don’t see my experience reflected in Asian immigrant women working,” she said. “Trying to make some kind of common identity the source of Asian American political unity simply isn’t going to work because there's just too much diversity.”
According to Hung, anti-Asian biases will still be prevalent even after COVID-19 passes. He emphasized that the increasing tension between the U.S. and China, one of his focus areas of research, has negatively affected the average American’s view of Chinese people.
“It is very unfortunate that when the Trump administration criticizes the Chinese government, they mix it up with hatred-filled language about the ‘kung flu’ and ‘Chinese virus,’” he said.
Tran acknowledged that it can be difficult for students and faculty to navigate the complex issues and histories that surround anti-Asian sentiments. She described her struggle to determine her place in the discourse.
“I started asking other Asian women how they were doing. What struck me was that many said, ‘I’ve been busy. I haven’t had time to think about this,’” she said. “There seemed to be the sense that there was no time to talk about Atlanta, anti-Asian violence, xenophobia, racism, sexism, classism and another mass shooting in America.”
She underscored the importance of taking the time to reflect on the recent event.
“This duty to maximize our potential for capitalist productivity and then social obligations, both of which are important to us all, consumes the time to just stop,” she said. “I want to encourage you, even if you think you have nothing articulately polished to say, to embody the act of stopping.”
Joseph Colón, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), was one of over 150 people who attended the event. Even though OMA was not involved in planning the discussion, he expressed his hope for his office to collaborate with the organizers in an email to The News-Letter.
“The faculty that put this together are passionate about this work. I thought this roundtable was another opportunity for our community to get educated and provided a space to confront our university’s approach to the Anti-Asian violence,” he wrote.
According to Colón, OMA is working on future events to help engage students in understanding racism.
N. D. B. Connolly, the director of RIC, reported that the heads of the programs co-sponsoring the event are in the process of creating a series of working groups to continue the conversation on anti-racist alliances.
“Much of the structure of higher education has really tried to lean into making it very difficult for multiracial and multicultural alliances to form,” he said. “What we are going to do going forward is localizing and understanding what is the history of the University relative to these questions.”
There are plans to host at least six sessions in the coming months. Connolly invited all students to participate.
Katy Oh is a senior staff writer for The News-Letter. She did not contribute reporting, writing or editing to this article.
Corrections: One of Oh’s quotes was changed to more accurately reflect her experiences. A statement that was inaccurately attributed to Kim was removed.
The News-Letter regrets these errors.