Students and faculty call to expand Asian American community at Berry

Taylor Corley, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief

Over the last year, there has been a distinctive increase in reported violence directed towards Asian Americans across the United States. Many community members, both on Berry’s campus and beyond, felt the strength of this violence on March 16, after a mass shooting in the Atlanta area that resulted in the death of eight people, six of whom were Asian women.

President Joe Biden recognized the difficulty in collecting statistics on hate crimes directed towards Asian Americans due to previous low reporting rates, but signed a memorandum that condemned the alarming rise in attacks towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The memorandum also called upon the Attorney General to increase the collection of data and public reporting involving hate incidents directed towards AAPI communities. 

Junior Will Bannister, who was born in Okinawa, Japan, said that the recent attention towards Asain American discrimination, specifially violent assualts, has shed light on the racism towards Asian Ameicans that is often not recognzied to the fullest extent. 

“In light of all the incidents that have happened, I think they have, in a way, destroyed the model minority myth that is often applied to Asians,” Bannister said. “Sometimes I feel like Asians have little room to talk because even though we get made fun of for our skin color or for being a ‘nerd,’ in some ways people see those as just words. Like yes, words hurt, but now that people are threatening our lives because we’re Asian it’s like our frustrations are validated, and it shouldn’t take violence to be validated.”

According to Stop APPI Hate, a national coalition that aims to address anti-Asian discrimination amid the pandemic, verbal harassment and shunning make up over 88% of the 3,795 discriminatory incidents reported to their center from March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021. 

“I think it’s important to realize that racism isn’t just expressed in the form of violence and that any type of racism is harmful,” Bannister said. “Racism also comes in the form of little microaggressions and I think, on Berry’s campus especially, it’s important that people are mindful of their racial biases and their words. That could look like refraining from making a comment about someone making the highest grade on a test just because they’re Asian or also actively including more Asians in the diversity conversations happening on campus. Really, as simple as it sounds, just being mindful would help.” 

Bannister recalled one of the first times he was on the receiving end of racially motivated microaggression when he was eight years old. The incident has stayed with him ever since. 

“I had just moved to the United States from Japan and I was in the bathroom at Walmart by myself while my parents were waiting outside,” Bannister said. “I was washing my hands at the sink when a couple of older guys came out of the stalls and they were pulling their eyes, laughing and calling me racial slurs. That was probably the first time I realized that I was going to experience things growing up in the United States that I would not have had to experience growing up in Japan even though I didn’t fully understand why at the time.” 

Since the mass shooting in Atlanta, the hashtag “#StopAsianHate” has been trending and Congress met on March 18 to discuss the increase in discrimination and aggressive assaults directed towards APPI communities, which have coincided with the pandemic. According to PBS News, this was the first Congressional hearing regarding hate directed towards Asian-Americans since 1987.

Jeffrey Lidke, professor of religion with a focus in Asian religions, feels the reason for the increase in hate crimes during the pandemic, stems from prejudicial biases. 

“Prejudices about the origin of coronavirus I think are a part of it and I think this really blind prejudice that if coronavirus originated in China, therefore all Asians are somehow responsible,” Lidke said. “It’s just kind of this blind, uneducated ignorance and anger.”

According to senior Ei Noe who was born in Yangon, Burma, continuing to acknowledge and call attention to the experiences of members of the AAPI community is crucial in supporting the community. 

“I think it’s important for there to be more attention called to the microaggressions that people within the AAPI community face because without more awareness and support, not much can be done to help better keep safe those that we consider our friends, families, mentors, neighbors and such who are apart of the AAPI community,” Noe said. 

For Noe, finding a place on campus to immerse herself in her culture and share her experiences with people who have had similar experiences has been difficult. 

“I have been at Berry for about four years and if I’m being honest, I’ve never really felt like there is a specific place or group on campus to immerse myself in Asian culture and learn from others,” Noe said. “When I decided to attend Berry, a big part of the reason I came here was because, although I knew I was a part of the minority, I wanted to share my background and beliefs with the majority while also learning about them. However, I never realized until later on how important it is for me to also have a shared space or community with those who have similar experiences to feel some form of balance.” 

According to Bannister, the lack of availability to a place that is specifically for members of the AAPI community extends beyond just the need for club meetings. 

“There is no place specifically for Asian American culture on campus and I think, in general, Asian Americans get overlooked by the institution in conversations about diversity because they fail to recognize Asians as a legitimate minority,” Bannister said. “But at the same time, I feel like people of color on campus have to actively seek out opportunities to be a part of those conversations in general, it’s not just different for us. It can be hard to plug into those clubs or organizations or conversations even when you fit in with the people talking or feel like you should have a place at the table because you don’t know anyone who’s already involved or don’t know how to get involved either.” 

The need for a space where those with similar experiences in the AAPI community can convene and divulge their emotions is even more important now, according to Noe, given the recent shooting in Atlanta as well as the military coup takeover in Myanmar, her home. Since the siege on Feb. 1, the coup has demolished Myanmar’s democratically elected government and an increase of civilian protests has resulted in high death rates and increasing violence. 

“On campus right now, to my knowledge, there are a total of two students from Burma, or Myanmar,” Noe said. “Though we are a small population, I still believe that as a college that has students from there it would be nice to see more support for what is occurring along with what is occurring across our nation within the AAPI Community. I have been able to lean on my friend group and I have mentors and supervisors who have checked in and it has been nice to be able to share my emotions and thoughts on what is happening. But, I wish there was more being done not only for this incident but also for other incidents that take place.”

Along with her desire for growth, Noe appreciates the work currently underway.

“There’s so much more work that needs to be done and seen on our campus and I’m grateful to those who have been working to make that come true for our Berry community,” Noe said. 

Leave a Reply