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UND panel discussion spotlights anti-Asian hostility, violence

Panel discussion is part of broader University effort to combat anti-Asian harassment

Zoom screenshot.

On Tuesday, after a series of conversation-focused training sessions, UND’s Teaching Transformation and Development Academy and the Office of Academic Affairs held a panel discussion that delved into the experience of anti-Asian hostilities and violence.

Moderated by Tamba-Kuii Bailey, assistant vice provost for Inclusion & Equity, the hour-long conversation on Zoom brought together Yee Han Chu, academic support and fellowship opportunities coordinator; Economics Professor Chih Ming Tan; Chemistry Professor Julia Zhao; and Kim Tom, a graduate student who is pursuing a Ph.D. degree in clinical psychology at UND.

The panelists explored a number of key points that reflect important elements of the Asian-American experience in the U.S. The panel as well as the training sessions, which took place last month, came on the heels of a pandemic, whose spread from China contributed to an uptick in discrimination cases against Asian Americans.

For instance, Stop AAPI Hate, a non-profit social organization and a reporting center, received roughly 3,800 reports of hate incidents against Asian Americans last year. That is nearly 1,000 more than the year prior.

“How has this violence and hatred impacted the Asian and Asian American communities, when you think about mental health, functioning, connectedness, and a sense of safety?” asked Bailey.

Tan said that due to the physical – and also social – isolation the coronavirus has brought on, it is hard to gauge individual experiences, even if they are those of family members and friends. Nonetheless, Tan, who has family in Singapore and Sweden, said that the general reaction is one of horror and concern.

Zhao recounted an incident a Chinese UND student had recently shared with her. The student was shopping at Walmart when a man shouted at her “to go back to China.” Such incidents have become more common in the pandemic, as fear of the virus and otherness spread out. The rhetoric is often also deployed against individuals, whose families have resided in the U.S. for generations.

To be told to “go back to where they came from is doubly hurtful when you think about how some people’s families came to the US,” said Tom. “I have an ancestor that was a transcontinental railroad worker. Having that in my history and knowing how long my family’s been in the US and knowing that people will still see your face and see you as an outsider generates this added stress.”

To an extent, the recent escalation of anti-Asian violence marks a shift in how Asian American communities have usually been perceived in the country.

“Asian Americans have been the invisible minority,” Tom said. “Asians as a group, historically have not been viewed similarly to other minority groups because of lower rates of health disparities, and lower economic disparities on average.”

Because of their collective achievements – or at least, the typical societal image of Asian Americans as hard-working, smart and trouble-adverse – the label of “model minority” is frequently ascribed to Asian Americans. For Chu, this is problematic.

“The term model minority implies that there’s a problem minority too,” she said.

So, what can we – as a society – do to prevent anti-Asian violence?

What happened to the UND student at Walmart provides an example. As the man accosted her verbally, a woman, “an American lady,” Zhao said, stepped in to tell the man, “‘You shouldn’t say that. That is wrong.’”

“This is a very good example for individuals as to what we can do in such a situation to deescalate this type of violence,” Zhao said.

Tan concluded, “We all want basically the same things. We want to be safe. We want to be accepted. We want be valued for who we are. That’s what we have to do in any circumstance. It’s not China or that big abstract threat. It’s not this virus or something like that. No, we’re ordinary human beings making our way in this world, just like everybody else.”

For resources on diversity and inclusion, please visit TTaDA’s web page.