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Univ. responds to open letter drafted by alumna on increased violence against AAPI

In response to the increase in anti-Asian violence across the nation, current students and alumni signed a letter sent to President Ron Liebowitz on March 1 encouraging him to make a statement to stand in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, according to the open letter. Liebowitz responded in an email sent to the Brandeis community the day after, on March 2, condemning the recent attacks and calling for students to come together to support AAPI in our community, according to the email

“To me social justice has the message of justice for all, and I felt that it’s important for Brandeis to speak up because, in a way, I felt that they are obligated to because they tout social justice,” said Jessica Chow ’18, author of the open letter, in a Zoom interview with The Brandeis Hoot. 

In the letter sent to Liebowitz, it encouraged him to make a statement on behalf of the university acknowledging the recent increase in attacks against the AAPI community happening nationwide. “The concept of social justice cannot exist while remaining silent on the issue of ongoing and increased violence against the AAPI community,” reads the letter. A statement from Liebowitz, according to the letter, would show support and solidarity for members of the Brandeis community who are impacted by this surge in violence. 

“Our university was founded in response to antisemitism and bigotry. When we encounter discrimination, hatred, or violence against another person based on their race, religion, or background, we must condemn these acts and join together in opposition to injustice,” wrote Liebowitz in his email.  

According to the letter, violence, discrimination and hate crimes against the AAPI community have been an ongoing issue, not an issue which was initiated by the pandemic. However, there has been an increase in these attacks since the pandemic began. According to Stop AAPI Hate, a group which keeps track and responds to cases of violence against the AAPI community in the United States, there has been an “alarming escalation in xenophobia and bigotry resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Chow added that there is a large Asian American community on campus which is impacted by these attacks. “I felt that because of all of these different factors, Brandeis should speak up, especially being a leading institution in social justice,” said Chow. “Growing up, I was taught to use my voice to speak up not only for myself but also for what is right, and I am humbled by the fact that Brandeis took swift action to release a statement; their prompt action showed me that your voice matters, and you can make a difference.”

These increased attacks have been most prevalent in New York and California, Chow explained, and many of the university’s out-of-state undergraduates come from these two states. According to Stop AAPI Hate’s National Report from March 2020 to August 2020, California reported 46 percent of all hate crimes in the United States against the AAPI community, while New York was second with 14 percent, out of 47 states where data was collected. Alabama, Kansas, North Dakota and West Virginia were not included in data collection but Puerto Rico was. Stop AAPI Hate has received 2,583 reports of varying violence against the AAPI community nationwide, according to their National Report.

“My first exposure to all of this was through social media, and the stories I read about hit particularly close to home, quite literally because I’m from California,” said Chow, “I’m part of this community, and I can be a voice for change for those who don’t have the voice.” 

In response to Liebowtiz’s email to the Brandeis community, Chow wrote to The Hoot that she appreciated the university made a statement and that they did not send a response the same day she emailed them because it shows they took time to think about how they would respond. 

At the time of publication, the letter has received 70 signatures from current students and alumni. 

In his response email, Liwbowitz wrote that the Brandeis Asian American Student Association (BAASA) would be hosting an event on the recent anti-Asian violence on March 18 which would be open to the entire Brandeis community. Liebowitz added that there are services on campus which can provide support for members of the AAPI community on campus during this time, including the Brandeis Counseling Center, the Intercultural Center and the Center for Spiritual Life

Students that would like to report any cases of discrimination on campus should file a report with the Office of Equal Opportunity, which handles all cases for students, faculty and staff if  they’ve experienced discrimination, harassment and/or sexual violence in the Brandeis community. 

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