BAASA event gives healing space for students affected by Anti-Asian racism

March 26, 2021

Student leaders of the Brandeis Asian American Student Association (BAASA) put together an event on Anti-Asian racism and violence which has escalated in the United States, days after the attacks in Atlanta, offering a place for healing for students affected by the trauma. The co-presidents of BAASA Juliana Hyojoo An ’21 and Ellie Kleiman ’21, and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) coordinator Grace Wang ’23 spoke about Anti-Asian racism and creating a safe space in our communities for people of color. 

“There is the violence that we are actually seeing which is the physical assault of Asian folks, versus the violence that we don’t see as explicitly like poverty, houselessness, unemployment, et cetera,” said Wang during the event. 

Anti-Asian racism is structural and systematic and it goes past the physical assaults being reported. The “invisible violence” hit hard with the COVID-19 pandemic, since South Asians have one of the highest test positivity and death rates in New York City, according to Wang. Anti-Asian racism is also seen in structural inequalities like housing and food security. Wang added that many frontline workers are also likely to be from the Asian American community which puts them at a higher risk for developing COVID-19. 

Wang discussed the increased Anti-Asian violence occurring in the United States in big cities including San Francesco, New York City, San Jose, Oakland and San Leandro. Wang also discussed two robberies in Quincy, Massachusetts which targeted Asian-Americans. 

“These anti-asian racist occurrences don’t only happen in big cities but also right in our own backyard,” said Wang.

Kleiman provided a brief history of Anti-Asian violence in the United States discussing Yellow Peril, which occurred in the 1800s. She explained that the history of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community is intertwined with a global history of Western colonial expansion and imperial wars. The US has been involved in many wars in Asia including China, Cambodia, Pakistan and other countries. This violence has increased refugees, caused trauma from displacement and caused many deaths of Asians, said Kleiman.  

The presenters also noted that carceral solutions the US has are not impactful since they do not contribute towards creating safe communities. “We cannot rely on the same systems that oppress us to protect us,” according to the slides.  

BAASA, partnered with the Intercultural Center (ICC), a resource for students which supports the understanding of different cultures and ethnicities on campus, held the event on March 18 to provide a space for students of color to heal and to discuss steps into creating real safety for marginalized groups, according to their event description

The presentation was entirely student run, according to An, specifically by Asian women and femmes. The only support was provided by Tara Whitehurst, program advisor at the ICC. 

The planning of the event was difficult on the student leaders since they had to adapt to accommodate a larger audience just two days before the event was scheduled for, due to its wide circulation, according to an email sent by the BAASA presidents. In addition to this, the students were processing the aftermath of the Atlanta shootings which happened two days before on March 16, An said. The students had to adapt the event to hold more people while also maintaining a healing space for Asians and other marginalized groups on campus who have been affected by the increased violence. 

“This is indicative of a larger problem at Brandeis of not supporting students of color,” said An. 

The event was promoted by university President Ron Liebowitz and Chief Diversity Office and Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas in emails sent out to the Brandeis community regarding the increased violence toward the AAPI community. 

The student leaders wrote that they were not given any support or substantial check-ins from upper administration leading up to the event. Even though administrators were directing people to the event, they did not help when the students had to change the structure and ensure security for the event, according to the email. It is not enough for the university to rely on and direct students towards, “Asian students to perform the labor of educating,” said An. 

“With the event being widely promoted to audiences outside of BAASA’s usual network, there was no way for our small group of students to sufficiently protect ourselves/our safety with the given time, resources, or support,” wrote the BAASA student leaders. 

Before the presentation began, Whitehurst offered the ICC as a “brave and safe space” for communities of color on campus to come to. The ICC is a place of solidarity for students as violence is continually observed against these communities, said Whitehurst.

“It is important for us to come together as a community during these trying times,” said Whitehurst. 

“As a proud Brandeisian, who also identifies as Asian-American, I bring my own lived experiences to work daily,” invited speaker Vice President of Student Affairs Raymond Ou said during the presentation.

Ou gave an anecdote of his own immigration from Taiwan to North Carolina at the age of 9. The experience has shaped him and how he views the world. It has also impacted his work with students of color, he explained.

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