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Students discuss anti-Asian racism at Brandeis and beyond

Students and faculty members discussed Anti-Asian racism that they’ve experienced in order to expand campus inclusivity to the Asian community on campus in a panel hosted by the Student Union on March 28. The panelists Panny Tao ’21, Karen Phuong ’22, Luke Liu ’21 and Professor Rajesh Sampath (HS) led the conversation on the increase in Anti-Asian violence and its history in the United States. 

“The goal of the panel today is to provide a space for us to listen to each other’s voices, to answer each other’s questions and to think about what we can do to better support each other,” said Tao. 

Phuong discussed the rise of Anti-Asian racism over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Phuong read several news headlines over the course of the pandemic that highlighted the increased violence against the Asian American community. Headlines included multiple attacks, hospitalizations and murders of Asian Americans. 

Sampath noted that there are periods of visualization and invisibilization when people see hate crimes. “People only pay attention to these hate crimes when something as serious and horrific as a deadly shooting happens, like what happened in Atlanta,” he explained. However, this doesn’t erase the other acts of violence against the Asian community. 

Over the past year, there has been a 150 percent increase in violence against Asians in 16 US cities, according to a California State University study Phuong cited. The statistics do not include unreported harassment.

“I think one of the biggest problems that the Asian population faces is that so many people within our population don’t have the means to report or are too afraid to report to the police,” said Phuong.  

Anti-Asian racism isn’t new though, according to Phuong; it has existed throughout the history of the US. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the National Origins Act of 1924 were just some examples that Phuong cited of Anti-Asian discrimination. 

“Most people, regardless of their political affiliation, think generally that China is the blame of the coronavirus pandemic,” Phuong said during the panel. “Which I think is quite stark and quite concerning because it’s people generalizing about an entire nation… and it’s also very concerning because of the misinformation that’s been happening, which causes this belief to occur.”

To make Brandeis more inclusive for Asian community members, Phuong suggested to support and check in on your peers, support culture clubs on campus, increase awareness about reporting structures on campus, improve the relationship between Asian community members and Brandeis Public Safety and promote accurate information about COVID-19. 

Phuong said that the fight against Anti-Asian racism and the Black Lives Matter movement go “hand in hand.” Both platforms fight for equality for people who are underrepresented, and it is important that both communities support each other towards equality, said Phuong. 

Tao and Liu discussed the experience of being international students in the United States and specifically on the Brandeis campus. There are many challenges faced by students from China even before coming to the U.S. to study, which includes access to standardized tests for college and the financial burden of applying for college, said Tao. Then, once here, international students face different learning and teaching methods, which requires time to adjust.  

There is also a language difficulty, according to Liu, which can be divided into two categories. The first is a cultural aspect to language, which you don’t learn from textbooks, said Liu. The second part is the academic aspect: Studying in English is challenging even for students who have been in the U.S. for years. It is especially difficult for classes that are reading intensive. 

Phuong also discussed the increase in Asian representation in politics and the media. “Parasite” is the first movie to be spoken and directed in a non-English language to win an academy award, said Phuong. She also cited other platforms with increased Asian representation  including books, music and political representatives. Sampath noted that in Hollywood, there is a history of using white actors to portray Asian roles, which invisibilizes the Asian community.

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