features

Grief, Outrage, and Action: How the AAPI Community at Holy Cross Has Responded to a National Tragedy of Hatred

Hui Li ‘21 

Co-Chief Graphic Designer

In recent years and decades fatal shootings have unfortunately become a common occurrence in the United States; on Tuesday, March 16, another one shook the nation and rattled the country’s Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population especially. Out of the eight people killed in the Atlanta spa shootings, six of them were Asian, with four of them of Korean descent and the other two Chinese. The murders sparked outrage and protests nationwide, with protesters holding signs displaying the victims’ names, the hashtag “Stop Asian Hate,” and other sayings decrying the existence of anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes. 

This tragedy occurred during a time of growing unease for the AAPI community: many people of Asian descent have been targeted in hate crimes. Several have been verbally abused, spat on, or even physically assaulted. According to statistics from the Stop AAPI Hate, an online reporting forum, Asian women were more likely to be targeted.  Many of the older victims of these attacks have been hurt and even died as a result. The six Asians murdered on March 16 were all women between the ages of 44 and 74.

As more details of the crime surfaced online, Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., president of the College, addressed the incident in a community-wide email on Thursday, March 18. In the message, he added words of solidarity for the AAPI members of the college community. “I want our Asian and Asian-American community members to know that we stand firmly with you. We see and condemn the injustice, racism and violence perpetrated against you, we hear you in your fear and pain, and we stand with you in our collective outrage. We are here for you,” wrote Father Boroughs.

On Monday, March 22, the Office of Multicultural Education (OME) hosted two online “drop-in hours” for students to spend some time processing the murders with AAPI faculty and staff. Among the employees present at the meetings were Professor Anggoro, Associate Professor of Psychology, and Christina Chen, Assistant Dean of International Students. The Spire reached out to both for comment regarding their motivations to take action in response to the tragedy.

Professor Anggoro, who identifies as Indonesian-American of Chinese descent, stated that she found the news “devastating and infuriating.” She expressed frustration toward treatment of the case, which was “compounded by this narrative that tries to divert our attention away from what it is—racism and misogyny— and instead attribute the heinous murders to things like the suspect’s sexual addiction, or excuse his behavior by saying he was ‘having a bad day.’”

Many news outlets have reported that the perpetrator of the crime blamed a “sex addiction” for his actions and that the police captain who was initially in charge of being the spokesperson for the investigation stated that the murders happened because the perpetrator was “having a really bad day.” Adding to the frustration of many AAPI people is debate about whether or the shootings constitute a hate crime or were even motivated by race or sex in the first place.

Professor Ren, Assistant Professor of History, agrees with Professor Anggoro’s description of these claims, writing to The Spire, “Both the shooter’s admission of ‘sex addiction’ and the police accounts of him ‘having a bad day’ are misleading, irresponsible, and frustrating. Race is obviously a factor in this case, but also even if there isn’t a provable ‘racial motivation,’ the violence against women itself is equally horrible.” 

He is currently teaching a course called “The Asian American Experience” in Spring 2021 and describes his curriculum as one “filled with episodes of anti-Asian violence and racial discrimination, from the mob expulsions of and riots against Chinese, Japanese, South and Southeast Asian migrant workers to the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans and the more recent killings of Asian Americans such as Vincent Chen in 1982 or the targeting of South Asians after 9/11.” Some of the readings he has planned for his course cover the kinds of historic racism and sexism that still affect Asian women today. “We will also examine histories of U.S. imperialist wars in Asia and the gendered dynamics that emerge from war brides and other popular culture portrayals of Asian women,” Professor Ren stated.

When asked about the significance of the Atlanta shootings in the scope of Asian-American history, he stated, “It is a tragic and traumatic, of course, but only falls within a broader and long-term pattern of mass shootings, misogynistic violence, and anti-Asian hate in the United States, with the latter phenomena having been significant more noticeable since the COVID outbreak.” As a historian, he elaborated on the importance of critical thinking when analyzing narratives and their sources. “Asian Americans share experiences of violence and discrimination but also could have quite different trajectories in terms of immigration histories, position in certain industries and labor markets, and connection to homelands. We could begin by not flattening the experience of all six victims of Asian descent as one story,” he wrote.

Regarding the most prominent narratives in media reports on the shootings, Professor Ren stated, “Another thing to keep in mind in following the media coverage of the Atlanta shootings is to be aware that Korean and Chinese-language journalists [both] in Georgia and [across the nation] exist and already have different and seemingly more substantive accounts than some of the initial accounts from the police briefings. This suggests a need for multilingual media reporting and each of us need to be mindful of the gaps in the story when certain voices are not included in the journalism due to linguistic bias.”

Professor Anggoro reached out to OME to ask how she can help support AAPI students through this difficult time for the community. She shared with The Spire, “Feeling sad and powerless, I wanted to channel my feelings toward creating space for members of the AAPI community at Holy Cross to gather, grieve, and support each other. I want people to feel free to just be. And to share whatever they want to share without judgment. If AAPI people can’t be safe just going about our days, then we should at least have a place to go to feel supported and less alone. Coming together can make us feel stronger too.”

Dean Chen, who identifies as Taiwanese-American, was invited to join the OME drop-in sessions. The Office had offered to support her and the international students she works with. She had already planned a session to talk with international students on Saturday, and the tragedy was one of the topics that they brought up. She agreed to join OME staff in meeting with students for both sessions on Monday.

As the Assistant Dean of International Students, Dean Chen had already been dealing with anti-Asian bias from the American bureaucratic system: the travel ban between the United States and China is still in place despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic situation in China has improved over the past few months. “There are no reports of new variants from China–so why is the travel ban still in place?  Students are worried:  When will the US consulates and embassy in China finally resume interviews for student visas? Until they do, thousands of Chinese students are prevented from getting visas to come to the US for college – and continuing students cannot resume their studies [even] at schools like Holy Cross, [which] ha[s] welcomed students back to campus,” she shared.

“The example of China illustrates how attitudes toward people of AAPI descent exist on a continuum – from thoughtless to hateful comments and from seemingly “reasonable” institutional policies (the ban on direct travel had a public health rationale at the beginning of the pandemic) to all-out fear and hate-based violence [such as] the recent shootings [and] the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that banned Chinese immigration for over 60 years,” added Dean Chen. She noted that the Chinese Exclusion Act was “the first and only time that a specific nationality has been banned from immigrating to the United States – and only after Chinese and other Asians had provided the manual labor to service gold prospectors and build the transcontinental railroad.  It was spurred in part by fear that US jobs were at stake.”   

With the knowledge about both historic and modern policies meant to restrict the movement and freedom of AAPI individuals in the country, Dean Chen stated, “my heart sank when I heard the news.  Sadly, with the violence and hatred that has been spreading, especially in the last year, a shooting like this didn’t surprise me. My heart breaks for the families and friends of the victims.  My heart is angry because Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islanders are too often easy targets for hatred.”

Background Photo (March 18 Protest in Washington, D.C.) Courtesy of Alex Wong, Getty Images. Graphic Design by Hui Li ‘21.

The Spire was able to receive student perspectives on the topic through an anonymous form sent on Monday. One AAPI student stated that they live fairly close to where the Atlanta shootings happened and shared that the news hits close to home for them. “The incident in Atlanta really shook me…with it being so close, I got really scared. I was deeply sadden[ed] to hear the news because the way that it was being reported also seemed like they were trying to change the narrative,” they wrote.

This student, who is currently attending classes remotely, shared concerns about the safety of Asian-American students on campus. “During my first year at Holy Cross, I experienced a handful of microaggressions due to my Asian-American background, and I think if I were on campus right now, it would be very difficult for me to deal with. I think it is important that the College does not ignore these issues and really encourages discourse, so that students can learn,” they added.

They also shared, “It’s been really hard to internalize everything going on against the AAPI community. Anti-Asian hate crimes and bias-based incidents have been occurring in the U.S. since last March, with the beginning of the pandemic. It’s really hard to keep reading new stories that come out. It especially concerns me that most of the hate crimes are directed toward the elderly. This is such a vulnerable population, and it makes me nervous. I just hope that professors can understand why we are not mentally and emotionally ready to be present in class. I hope that they can meet us at where we are and understand these turbulent times.” On the form, they thanked one of their professors for taking time to acknowledge the tragedy at the beginning of one of their classes. “This really made me feel supported…so it felt nice to know that there are faculty members that do care.”

For another student, the Atlanta shootings hit close to home in another way. They wrote, “I have several family members who work in the nail industry which is not terribly different from massage spas. I grew weary and [more] concern[ed] for my family especially those who are women. It was difficult finding balance between staying on top of schoolwork while also battling the numerous emotions that arose with the event. It was exhausting and draining trying to digest the emotions as well as to find words to describe the way I was feeling.”

The same student, who identifies as an Asian woman living on campus, echoed earlier concerns about safety and wellness on Mt. St. James, stating, “Being at a PWI (Predominantly White Institution), it is difficult to discern who my allies are unless they reach out and make it apparent that they care and are here to support me…I do not feel as comfortable walking through campus by myself. I have been asking friends to walk me back to my dorm from the library etc. so I can feel more protected. It has been extremely difficult to retain the same focus as I normally am able to with so many pressing thoughts and emotions. I would wish for others to check in on their friends who identify as part of the AAPI community and to also reaffirm that it is acceptable and necessary to take breaks from academics to cope with these heavy feelings.”

When prompted to write about what members of the college community can do to make them feel more understood and supported on campus, they suggested, “Although it may be uncomfortable, I urge the HC community to reach out to their peers, friends, and family members that may be hurting even if it doesn’t seem they are. Checking in can be as simple as ‘I’m thinking of you.’ Don’t feel as though you need to say the right words and a long, complicated message. We are dealing with a lot right now and having the emotional support of our friends can help enormously.”

Professor Ren stated in his statement to The Spire, “It is really sad to learn of the young people – not too much older than our students – who have lost their resilient and supportive mothers.” Another student shares his sentiment, stating that they felt “[s]cared [and] worried about family when they leave the house” because “[w]e are hurting because the victims could have been people we know and care about.” They added, “Don’t dismiss the violence and hate around these attacks” and “Show that [you] are standing in solidarity with us by speaking out against these hate crimes and learning more about the AAPI victims” as ways that their peers can help them through this difficult time and beyond.

Lastly, this student stated that the college community can make them feel safer and more welcome by “understand[ing] that negative stereotypes of Asians exist and not say[ing] things that would perpetuate them.” One of these stereotypes is that Asians look identical to each other. To this misconception, Professor Anggoro replied, “Things that seem small can mean a lot: try to spell and pronounce our names correctly. Don’t mistake us for one another.”

There are also “positive” stereotypes about AAPI people that are not as harmless as they might seem at a glance. “Don’t get started on all the ‘positive,’ harmful stereotypes about ‘model minorities,’ ‘almost white’ and how AAPI women are ‘exotic beauties’,” added Dean Chen. Each of these stereotypes downplays the struggles that the AAPI community has faced for generations and have contributed to AAPI issues being overlooked for decades and also perpetuate other stereotypes attributed to Asians, in particular Asian women. “So many of us have lived our lives feeling unheard, or having our pains dismissed because we are considered [the] ‘model minority’…learn about related problems like the hyper-sexualization of Asian women and victim-blaming. Silence is complicity, right? So if you see injustice, please speak up,” suggested Professor Anggoro.   

When asked how other people can become more effective allies to the AAPI community, Professor Ren wrote, “Please make a concrete effort to get to know one or more AAPI students, staff, faculty, or other Holy Cross community members. And get to know what the difficulties have been like from their perspective. The college could perhaps work a bit more closely with the AAPI-oriented student groups and other offices to create some new spaces or opportunities for conversation that address concerns on campus and in the wider community.” Dean Chen agreed with this advice, adding, “Try to listen with an open heart – one without assumptions and with a desire to understand.”

Lastly, for AAPI students, Dean Chen shared a piece of advice she learned from her Taiwanese father: “Each of us has unique experiences but all of us have roots in a huge area of the world, with a heritage of ancient civilizations and extremely strong women and men. When you feel discouraged, draw on those deep roots of strength. Be like the bamboo: during the storms, it bends and does not break.”

______________________________________________________________________________

The Counseling Center is available to support all of our current students. In response to COVID-19 and the rapidly changing guidelines regarding management of it, the Counseling Center staff members are now working remotely and we have adjusted our available services. The Counseling Center is available to meet with students via Zoom for every other week. To schedule an appointment please call the Counseling Center at 508-793-3363.

If you cannot wait to speak to someone until a scheduled appointment, the Counseling Center does have Urgent Care appointments available Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

An on-call crisis counselor is available by telephone to any currently enrolled student 24/7 by calling 855-418-7282.If you are experiencing an emergency on campus, please contact Holy Cross Public Safety at (508) 793-2222 or off campus dial 9-1-1.

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2 replies »

  1. Let us make something perfectly clear: race-based hate, bias, or even jealousy is wrong, It cannot be tolerated. In this country, all that we need to tolerate is each other.

    However, there are many issues here. One of them is biased-based hate. Another huge issue is human trafficking.

    The murderer said he was “Having a bad day.” That is what the police repeated at the press conference. Why the police repeated such a stupid remark? Who knows? However, it does not change anything. It does not change the evilness of this crime. Apparently, that is considered some sort of racist double speak. I was praised when I was at the Cross for my ability to close read rhetoric; I assure you, there is no racism in that phrase.

    And let us not connect this crime to the travel ban of January 2020. We are Jesuit educated or Jesuit educators. We are way too bright to make meme-type connections or use an “intellectual” thought process the actual thought of a rock skipping across a lake. The ban was to stop a virus that had originated in China. If it originated in Dublin, London, or Madrid, then travel from there should have been banned at the same time. As it was, Speaker Pelosi and New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio wanted to show how PC they were by celebrating the Chinese New Year, which, we now know, was not a good idea no matter what New Year it was (This was about the time we learned a new phrase: ‘Social Distancing’). When I was a boy, we all got shots for Rubella, aka “German Measles.” None of us of German dissent took this as insult. What we did was get vaccinated.

    In this world, thankfully, we are seeing less and less acceptance of prejudice. Unfortunately, there are certain that still hang on. Anti-Asian bias and even a renewed anti-Christian bias still exist. However, I am of the age where we saw prejudices start to fade and they are much better than they were even then. My melting pot of a family has gone from being multi-nationality to multi-racial in a single generation. This is just one tiny example of progress; there are millions more.

    There are many opportunities to make a better world from every tragedy. As I have said above repeatedly tolerance is vital to the country.

    However, this is not just a crime against Asians. Six of the victims were Asian. Two were not. Even the casual reader of detective novels would know that this means an element is missing. That element? This was violence against sex workers by a young man with serious issues. These workers were killed which should not only shine a light on their ethnicity, but also on their circumstances. They were like so many other women who are brought into this country in ways that are closer to slavery than to any think close to the American Dream. They are abused, they are exploited, and they are tossed aside. Americans of all races frequent these so-called “Massage parlors” where much more than a massage is offered. A majority of these workers are exploited Asian women. THAT cannot be tolerated. It is time for Americans of all races to say enough is enough. It is time for a college who speaks so much of “Service to others” to say “We are not just going to just send an email out expressing our outrage, or have a ‘conversation’ so that everyone feels better. We are going to stand with those who stand with those who say let us end human trafficking; we are not going to let those who believe these are victimless crimes spew their nonsense. We are going to stand up for human dignity.”

    As Crusaders, whether we be students or alumni, we need to show everyone that we hold ourselves to a higher standard. And that standard can be used to change this world

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  2. To clarify: There is a virulent strain of COVID-19 originating in the United Kingdom. However, the US allows a special “national interest exemption” so that UK students with F-1 visas may travel directly to the United States (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/national-interest-exceptions-from-certain-travelers-from-the-schengen-area-uk-and-ireland.html). No such special consideration is allowed for students from China and direct flights originating in China are banned from the entry to the US.

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