“Gaining equality is about decolonization and realizing this didn’t start with Donald Trump or the media,” Yunuen Cho, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’21, said. “This is a country that was built by enslaved individuals including Asian peoples. It’s not just the language of ‘Chinese Virus,’ it’s the normalization of seeing Asians as overseas war efforts,” she said.
On March 16, a white gunman shot and killed eight people at three different massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia. This hate crime targeted Asian people; six of the victims were Asian, and all but one were women.
“I’m glad that the university was able to address the issue but I would’ve liked to have read more about what actions the university wants to take to protect their POC students.” Regine Anastacio, FCLC ’21
University Efforts and Missteps
In response to the incidents, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, released a statement condemning “the use of hateful rhetoric and violence against people of Asian descent, and the xenophobic and racist thinking which underlies those attacks.”
Regine Anastacio, FCLC ’21 and president of Filipinos of LC Offering Welcome (FLOW), was glad that the university addressed the hate crimes, but wished more action was demonstrated.
“I’m glad that the university was able to address the issue but I would’ve liked to have read more about what actions the university wants to take to protect their POC students,” she said.
Cho said the statement felt detached from the everyday experiences of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students. “Father McShane is obviously going to speak about issues concerning his students but I believe he is too entrenched in the institution to fully understand what emotions I and other Asian students feel, especially since Asians all have different experiences and might not feel connected to one issue or another,” she said.
The AAPI Club released a statement on Instagram denouncing the attacks and all other anti-Asian hate crimes. The club also linked resources for students and advice on how to support the community in the midst of these attacks.
Other members of the university addressed the violence in their own ways. Rafael Zapata, chief diversity officer, issued a statement denouncing the “hateful political rhetoric, xenophobia and scapegoating of people of Chinese and East Asian descent.”
Zapata hosted two panels on anti-Asian violence on March 24 and March 29 with featured AAPI speakers.
On March 24, Jennie Park-Taylor, associate professor of counseling psychology, discussed the duality between feeling invisible as an Asian woman in certain spaces, and hyper-visible in environments where she is the only Asian in a room.
“It really hurt. Just thinking about how these people were pointed a gun at and shot when all they were doing was working in a peaceful salon… It’s shock, sadness, rage, and then numbness.” Kana Seiki, FCLC ’24
She also mentioned the stereotypes of Asian women, and that even though a great deal of hatred targets Chinese people, this racism does not discriminate, impacting all East and Southeast Asians.
Mary Balingit, associate director for diversity initiatives in the Office of Admissions, touched on jokes about Asians eating dogs and other domesticated animals, resulting in the othering of non-western diets, as well as the hypersexuality of Asian women who are viewed as docile and subservient. This intersection between race, gender and sexuality is rooted in historical events such as comfort women.
During the panel, a petition was circulated to establish Asian American studies at Fordham.
Students React to Atlanta Hate Crime
In an email to the Fordham community, the deans of arts and sciences at FCLC expressed their “horror at the massacres of eight innocent people, including six women of Asian descent, that took place last week in Atlanta.” They reiterated their efforts to promote anti-racism at Fordham and throughout the broader community.
Kana Seiki, FCLC ’24, described the shock and horror she felt learning about the Atlanta shooting via Instagram infographics. Seiki, who lived in Japan for 12 years, reflected upon the safety of herself and her family and felt a sense of dismay to live in a country riddled with racism and hatred.
“It really hurt. Just thinking about how these people were pointed a gun at and shot when all they were doing was working in a peaceful salon… It’s shock, sadness, rage, and then numbness,” she said.
“It became very difficult for me to know that I have AAPI friends who own nail salons and service stores, and how they could be in danger to people who would simply come in and hurt them.” Gabrielle Calara, FCLC ’24
Gabrielle Calara, FCLC ’24, expressed discomfort and worry, and she believed that the media’s references to COVID-19 as a “China virus” worsened hate towards the AAPI community.
Calara said she grieved the people who were lost in the attack and also feared for those close to her: “It became very difficult for me to know that I have AAPI friends who own nail salons and service stores, and how they could be in danger to people who would simply come in and hurt them.”
Yoshimi Eder, FCLC ’24, was disturbed by the Atlanta sheriff’s defense of the shooter’s motives and micro-aggressions she witnessed: “They were saying he had a bad day. You know if it was a person of color who did that, it would’ve had a different title, the media coverage would have been different, but because he was white and believed in God, he was just having a bad day,” Eder said.
“To hear that the shooter was ‘just having a bad day’ is completely unacceptable and I feel like it’s taking way too long for them to prosecute the attacker.” Regine Anastacio
Anastacio also expressed disgust with the same comment made by the Atlanta sheriff. “The members of FLOW and I felt so heavy because these women were just going to work, doing their job, in the middle of a pandemic too, so they were already risking their lives,” she said. “To hear that the shooter was ‘just having a bad day’ is completely unacceptable and I feel like it’s taking way too long for them to prosecute the attacker.”
The Dangers of the Model Minority Myth
The anti-Asian violence panel underscored the prevalence and dangers of the “model minority myth” that Asians are boxed into, in which members of a minority status who on average achieve a higher socio-economic success than other minority groups are considered problem-free.
“The model minority myth is an artificial myth that arose out of a need to ‘divide and conquer’ the several minority groups in the U.S. It portrays Asian Americans as innately gifted in things like STEM and music, which is actually quite dehumanizing.” Arthur Liu, FCRH’23
Balingit encouraged solidarity between communities of color, understanding that minority groups are allies against white supremacy.
Arthur Liu, Fordham College at Rose Hill ’23 and president of the Asian Cultural Exchange Club, said: “The model minority myth is an artificial myth that arose out of a need to ‘divide and conquer’ the several minority groups in the U.S.” He continued, “It portrays Asian Americans as innately gifted in things like STEM and music, which is actually quite dehumanizing. So instead of working towards true equality and the abolishment of white supremacy, other minority groups are pitted against one another and a hierarchy is created.”
Cho emphasized that all Asians are not wealthy and prosperous. “We built your railroads, and then later there was a point when we were only given visas if we were professional doctors and lawyers… where do you think the stereotypes come from? People need to be educated on how deep racism against Asians runs in the United States.”
“I think that the university should have actions in place if there are any AAPI crimes that happen. And in the long term, perhaps give more AAPI teaching positions and offer more AAPI courses because becoming educated about these issues is a key step to moving forward.” Regine Anastacio
Students and Faculty Outline Actions Toward Combating Anti-Asian Hate
Seiki recommended that students look for anti-Asian acts or mindsets, and to refrain from posting videos of Asians being harassed or assaulted because the material may be triggering.
Calara suggested hosting discussions on the recent attacks and the toll it has taken on AAPI students’ mental health.
“It would mean a lot to the AAPI community if other campus clubs and academic departments would release official statements or at least formally acknowledge the anti-AAPI hate that is going on.” Arthur Liu
Anastacio desired concrete action from the university, such as hiring more AAPI faculty and staff.
“I think that the university should have actions in place if there are any AAPI crimes that happen. And in the long term, perhaps give more AAPI teaching positions and offer more AAPI courses because becoming educated about these issues is a key step to moving forward,” she said.
Anastacio also stressed continuing to fight for equality, educating ourselves, having conversations with others and practicing BIPOC unity.
Cho demanded education: “I want the university to give a reading list. I want people to understand Asian history in the United States is one of oppression that didn’t start with the media. I want our minds to be decolonized and to learn we can’t blame certain people for an entire history of racism that spans years and years in the making,” she said.
Liu encouraged other clubs and academic departments to openly discuss the attacks: “It would mean a lot to the AAPI community if other campus clubs and academic departments would release official statements or at least formally acknowledge the anti-AAPI hate that is going on,” he said.
Insiya Gandhi, Fordham College at Lincoln Center ’24, is a staff writer for The Observer. She is majoring in political science. In her spare time, Insiya can be found taking a daily sanity-restoring walk, scrolling through Zillow and defending Central Jersey’s existence.
Maddie Sandholm, FCLC ’23, is the layout editor for The Observer. She is a new media & digital design major and visual arts minor. If she's not working in The Observer office, you might find her drawing, practicing guitar or playing Stardew Valley with her sisters.