Disclaimer: This article was written and edited before the recent shootings in Atlanta.
The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Now, after a year of quarantining, mask-wearing and social distancing, hate crimes against Asian-Americans spike again in cities across the United States. Activists, academics and students at NYU are speaking up against the violence — in place of what some characterize as the university’s lack of action.
Hate crimes against Asian-Americans increased nationwide by nearly 150% in 2020. In New York City, racist anti-Asian attacks increased 833%, from three reports in 2019 to 28 reports in 2020. This year, in Harlem, a 27-year-old Asian man was beaten and told to return to China on Feb. 15. While on their delivery commutes, multiple Asian restaurant employees were attacked, as the New York Times reported on Feb. 25.
“My dad was a Chinese restaurant owner back home,” said Gallatin sophomore Laura Zhang, from Colorado. “These forms of violence impact restaurants, families, overall health, immigrant identity and more.”
Not only do Asian-Americans fear for their safety while they work, but also while they navigate the city. A significant number of hate crimes and attacks have occurred in and around the city’s subways.
A 71-year-old Asian woman was punched in the face while sitting on the E train on Feb. 16. That same day, a 68-year-old Asian woman was punched on the back of the head while standing on the A train platform at 125th Street. On March 2, a 56-year-old Malaysian man was pushed to the ground and beaten repeatedly at the East Broadway train station.
“As a Chinese woman, I am not only terrified but anguished about the surging racist attacks on Asian Americans,” Liberal Studies first-year Aria Young told WSN. “I feel so vulnerable on my daily hour-long subway commute to and from campus that I sometimes wear a hood to cover up my Asian features just to feel safer.”
In response to the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, NYU President Andrew Hamilton released a statement to the university community on Feb. 24 announcing that NYU will continue taking action to ensure community members “feel included and respected.”
“Such acts are unacceptable and we must all work to ensure that all members of our community can live, work, and learn without fear,” Hamilton wrote. “We remain determined and deeply committed to upholding and realizing our NYU community’s global diversity, anti-racism, anti-xenophobia, equity, and inclusion values.”
The Office of Global Inclusion issued a statement on Feb. 16 communicating their solidarity with the Asian, Pacific Islander and Asian American communities. They also encouraged students to participate in various virtual events, some of which are held by the university, while others are student-led. The OGI previously denounced anti-Asian racism in April 2020, when violence against Asian Americans first surged in tandem with COVID-19.
As part of the NYU BeTogether initiative, OGI continues to offer programming from last spring, such as the recorded panel “Coping with & Contextualizing Anti-Asian Racism & Pandemics.” The office also offers links to various resources, such as statements, scholarly articles, pedagogical resources, media responses and blog posts on racism, anti-racism and self-care.
According to Dr. Lisa Coleman, the Senior Vice President of Global Inclusion & Strategic Innovation, The OGI has worked with various university departments, such as the Office of Student Life, external advocacy groups, faculty in various academic departments and colleagues at NYU Shanghai to confront anti-Asian racism. The OGI has partnered with the NYU Department of Public Safety to monitor the university’s Bias Response Line for instances of on-campus anti-Asian activity.
“To date, we have seen no uptick in complaints among members of our community, but given the situation in New York City, we must remain particularly vigilant,” Coleman wrote in an email statement to WSN. “The current trend of anti-Asian racism has deeply rooted historic legacies that also must be addressed to realize equity in our institution and global communities.”
According to Asian Heritage Month at NYU, a student group that raises awareness of Asian and Pacific Islander social issues, histories and culture, the university administration has not done enough to respond to the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
“We have not seen consistent support for our community, even at an institution like NYU,” AHM said in a statement to WSN. “Institutional support through faculty, resources and courses on social justice are exceptionally scarce. NYU does not exist in a vacuum and the violence and hate crimes against Asians in America are a byproduct of the social attitude towards us. We need real support and real changes, not another letter.”
Young also believes the university is not doing enough to combat the recent attacks.
“I’m disappointed to see NYU’s inaction,” Young said. “A university dedicated to diversity and equity like NYU should be expected to not only show support and solidarity with the Asian community, but also take protective measures for its students’ safety and well-being … But from my knowledge and personal experience with the administration, I have seen none of these things.”
In response, Coleman reiterated that NYU remains in solidarity with Asian/Pacific Islander/American members of the university community and condemns anti-Asian racism.
“I am troubled to learn that students feel a lack of support from the University,” Coleman wrote. “This is an issue we take very seriously, and one to which we are committed on multiple fronts, including condemning anti-Asian racism, providing resources and education, and contributing to scholarship.”
Meanwhile, various student activist groups and university institutes, such as Asians Lead and the A/P/A Institute at NYU, are also working to combat anti-Asian American hate and to support community members.
The A/P/A Institute at NYU, which is affiliated with the university, aims to spark discourse on Asian-American and Pacific-American culture and politics.
The institute hosted a virtual event on Feb. 22. titled “Mending in Ongoing Crisis: Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Voices and COVID-19,” where NHPI organizers discussed the pandemic’s impact on their communities. The institute has also created “A/P/A Voices: A COVID-19 Public Memory Project,” which documents the uptick in anti-Asian violence and xenophobia amid the pandemic through Asian-American voices and experiences.
Asians Lead — a virtual space co-founded by Young where Asian-American artists and creators can freely express themselves — is also working to educate the public about the experiences of Asian Americans in the U.S.
“In response to the anti-Asian racist attacks recently, Asians Lead wants to … create a safe space for all Asian and Asian-Americans to advocate for themselves in the face of a racial crisis, and also build a community that prioritizes inclusion, diversity, and equity,” the group wrote in a statement to WSN.
Doris F. Chang, an associate professor at the NYU Silver School of Social Work, and Sumie Okazaki, a professor at NYU Steinhardt, are researching the impacts of anti-Asian sentiment, hate crimes and attacks. Their study, called CARA (COVID-19, Asian-Americans, Resiliency and Allyship), analyzes the anxieties of the Asian communities across the U.S. in response to the violence against them.
“I think the research these two professors are doing is really inspirational,” said Liberal Studies first-year Jane Work. “Being from the Bay Area, I’ve seen COVID-19’s economic impacts on San Francisco’s Chinatown. I think analyzing the physiological aspect of the virus is crucial to re-strengthen Asian communities across the country.”
CARA is composed of interviews with 689 Asian American respondents, ranging in age from 18 to 80 years old, from across the country. Each respondent was asked how much pandemic-related discrimination had interfered with their quality of life. Okazaki and Chang’s preliminary data analysis suggests that older Asian Americans have experienced increased stress compared to younger Asian Americans.
“While it is beyond our current study findings to be able to say the long-term impact of these attacks on our community, I do think that there is an increasing involvement of younger generations of Asian Americans who are raising their voices to protest anti-Asian violence against the elders and other most vulnerable members of the community,” Okazaki wrote in an email to WSN.
Email Mei Lamison at [email protected]