While students were on spring break, tragedy struck the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities again when a gunman killed eight people at spas in the Atlanta Area on March 16. Six of the women killed were of Asian descent.
After the Atlanta shootings brought hate crimes against Asians into the national media spotlight, the USF community came forward in numerous ways to support the AAPI community.
Anti-Asian violence in the U.S. has skyrocketed, beginning in March of last year when Asians were blamed for the coronavirus in rhetoric spoken by former President Donald Trump and other conservatives. USF President Paul Fitzgerald was quick to issue an email statement to the community condemning the rise of anti-Asian violence in which he echoed previous emails sent throughout the past year on coronavirus-related topics.
The Asian and Asian American Staff/Faculty Council (AAASFC) has been discussing the increase in anti-Asian violence and has hosted events for the USF AAPI community to share their feelings on COVID-related racism since the pandemic began a year ago. Jinni Pradhan, assistant director of the Cultural Centers, along with Will Hsu, a residence director, co-coordinate this formal community-space.
“Unfortunately, we are here a year later and the Asian and Asian American community is still experiencing this racism,” Pradhan said.
The AAASFC holds regular community lunches for Asian and Asian American staff and faculty, but after the Atlanta shooting, they held a special lunch to help the community process the tragedy in addition to coordinating with other campus offices and minority affinity groups.
“This is an issue that is not going to just disappear,” James Zarsadiaz, director of Philippine Studies at USF, said. “Something that we’ve seen in the past in Asian American history is that whenever there are crises, the communities will always come together at the end of the day to address these problems because one issue affects everyone.”
ASUSF Senate and the Culturally-Focused Clubs Council (CFCC) hosted a “Healing & Processing Space” for students on March 23 to discuss the ongoing and increased acts of anti-Asian violence. Senate and CFCC reached out to Kasamahan (USF’s Filipino student organization) Executive Director Frances Capupus and Khmer Student Association President Solinna Ven to moderate the space. The event had roughly 30 student, faculty, and staff attendees.
Ven, a sophomore urban studies major said that the space was created so “the AAPI community and their allies can feel comfortable sharing their stories and also how they are affected by the current events.”
Ven became emotional during the event while reflecting on her experiences as an Asian American woman. “It is important for people of the AAPI community to come together and address their thoughts and feelings, but also for allies of the AAPI community to hear stories and learn ways on how to combat this hate,” she said.
Capupus, a junior nursing major said, “It’s been very difficult for me to fully ingest the news and climate of our society. I didn’t realize how much this has affected me until I stepped in the space and listened to people’s stories,“ she said. “Being in that Zoom call allowed me to be there not only for my community but for myself as well. It was a reminder that rest is a form of resistance and we all deserve time to heal.”
This was not the only event addressing anti-Asian hate hosted in the past two weeks at USF. On March 30, University Ministry held a gathering where AAPI community members led 88 attendees in prayer, song, reflection, and healing. The event, which was open to all, featured eight speakers from various corners of the University including the Law School, the Loyola House Jesuit Community, support staff, and professors.
Evelyn Ho teaches in the Asian Pacific American Studies (APAS) program and helped organize the service. The APAS program recently passed a resolution to denounce anti-Asian racism in which it called for — among other things — the University to support the APAS and Critical Diversity Studies programs, hire more diverse employees, and have specific, permanent mental health resources for AAPI students.
“[Anti-Asian violence] reminds us, as an AAPI community, there’s always more work to do,” Ho said, highlighting the need for their proposed resolution.
According to resolution co-creator and APAS professor Evelyn Rodriguez, the University’s Arts Council endorsed the resolution and APAS is working to get other campus organizations to sign onto it by the end of the academic year.
AAPI-related academic programs and centers at USF also issued a joint email message that was written to support students by sharing activism, mental health, and educational resources, while condemning anti-Asian sentiments and violence. Students were also encouraged to sign up for open office hours with AAPI faculty and staff to check-in and talk about their feelings surrounding recent events.
Zarsadiaz, who is also the instructor of USF’s lone Asian American history course, said he is “disturbed” by recent cases of anti-Asian violence. “Any student who has passed through my class knows from [my Asian American history] course that anti-Asianism is not new. Anti-Asianism goes back all the way to the 19th century, really; largely starting with the influx of Chinese immigrant laborers on the West Coast,” he said.
Zarsadiaz admitted that he has not spoken with his students in-depth about the Atlanta shooting yet, but he plans to discuss it thoroughly later in the semester. Nonetheless, Zarsadiaz said, “It’s not difficult to bring up what’s been going on in the last year and relating that to anything we talked about in my class. Honestly, you could tie any [case of recent Anti-Asian racism] to what we’re discussing in my class, whether we’re talking about the Japanese internment during World War II or the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.”
All interviewees told the Foghorn that the USF community can best support the AAPI community by donating time and resources to AAPI organizations in addition to reporting anti-Asian hate crimes; checking in on AAPI-identifying friends and family; showing up to anti-Asian hate protests; volunteering in Asian communities; and educating oneself on the systemic, historical causes of the current rise in anti-Asian hate. Interviewees also emphasized that it is important to recognize that anti-Asian racism has always been here, but it is now more visible as Asians’ and Asian Americans’ resistance is also being made more visible.
Editor’s Note: Ethan Tan was invited to speak at University Ministry’s AAPI community gathering in his personal capacity.
Ethan Tan is a junior politics major and the Foghorn’s News Editor. He covers the University’s administration and campus labor unions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tanethans.