Standing in Solidarity Event Draws Attention to Anti-Asian Racism and Offers Path Forward
By Christina Papadopoulos '23
May 28, 2021
As Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month comes to a close, it is important to recognize both the historic and current cultural influences and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. On campus, this means celebrating Asian American student communities, whose strong presence is felt in Drexel’s many student-led Asian and AAPI organizations.
“In my generation, there are so many Asian American youth rejecting [stereotypes] and reclaiming their identity and being proud of it,” says Amina Fong, Political Science and Communication student. “Educational awareness is so significant because it reminds Asian American youth that we should not just acknowledge our identities, but we should celebrate them. We should be very proud and demand recognition for our community.”
To promote this educational awareness during a time when anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise, Drexel’s Office of Equality and Diversity held a panel discussion titled "Standing in Solidarity: A Frank Conversation About Anti-Asian Hate Crimes," in collaboration with Rebecca Clothey, PhD, director of the Asian Studies minor program. This panel featured a conversation grounded in the experiences of Asian and Asian American students, faculty and professional staff members in the Drexel community, with dialogue from students and faculty in the College of Arts and Science.
“We wanted to highlight that this conversation is not just occurring in the abstract, but for members of our Asian and AAPI community, the trauma is real, the pain is real, the anger is real, the frustration is real and all of the emotions are real,” says event moderator Patience Ajoff-Foster, MS, CDP, who also serves as the executive director for Diversity and Inclusive Culture in Drexel’s Office of Equality and Diversity. She adds, “We want to continue to be hopeful as we create these spaces for community building for solidarity and learning, so that we can continue to move the conversation forward and not only talk about this pain and trauma, but also do something about it.”
With the recent anti-Asian hate crimes that have occurred during the pandemic, it’s important to recognize that this hate is not unprecedented. There is unfortunately a long history of anti-Asian violence in the United States, including government legislation that has harmed these communities. The panel discussion specifically highlighted the impact of the recent Atlanta murders.
“I think what’s really damaging about the Atlanta murders is that it really plays upon the trope of Asian American women as subservient, as docile,” says Vera Lee, EdD, associate clinical professor of Literacy Studies and department chair of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum in Drexel’s School of Education. “But there’s also no proof that the women who were targeted were sex workers. It’s an assumption that I think is incredibly hurtful. You see the two sons of Mrs. Park, who owned one of the spas, and she’s a single mother just trying to raise two boys. So I think part of it is unpacking why we are so sympathetic to the perpetrator and not thinking about the humanity of the women who were killed.”
Understanding the evident bias against the victims involved in the Atlanta murders relates to common microaggressions Asian Americans face. A microaggression that repeatedly came up was the idea of the model minority myth. This refers to the stereotype that all Asian Americans are successful and polite, erasing experiences that deviate from this trope. This myth is constantly used as a way to downplay racism, especially when used against other minority groups in America.
“There’s the thought that Asian or Asian American students are usually meant to do medical and STEM fields,” explains Sandra Parks, assistant teaching professor and director of the Dance Program in the Westphal College of Media Arts and Design. Parks draws upon her own experiences with the damaging model minority myth. “As a performing artist coming from Asia and moving to the U.S., it made me feel relieved, at the time, that I had a choice. But many students I know are still being put under this pressure of being told no, that’s not a valid career choice, or, you’re Asian, you have to [be in STEM]. For international students, there’s a lack of recognition of the stress students experience and where to find help. I personally don’t think [Asian students] are academically better, I just think we are trained very well to know how to beat the test. I’m a product of that, and it comes with another layer of pressure we don’t often talk about.”
While this stereotype still exists and harms the identities of Asian Americans, students are also mobilizing themselves and their communities through AAPI student organizations.
“The model minority myth is something that many Asian American students still struggle with today, and unfortunately I foresee that we are going to struggle with that for a long time. We are going to see students who think they have to keep their heads down, but I also see in my generation there are so many Asian American youth who are rejecting that myth and are claiming their identity and trying to advocate for their community.” As the co-conference chair of the Asian Student Association (ASA), Fong offers a unique look at how AAPI student organizations are advocating for Asian American student communities. “On campus we have several amazing student organizations. We see efforts from ASA putting together a conference to act as a safe space for congregating as a community and connecting with leaders and students. This can [also] be different things such as putting together social events where we can connect with one another over shared experiences, or putting together workshops to dissect issues currently impacting our Asian American community.”
Of course, there are also ways for non-Asian students to get involved in standing up against anti-Asian hate and crime, from engaging in dialogue on the topics presented in this panel to recognizing racism and microaggressions. It’s a societal duty to stand up to this sort of hate and uplift the voices of those who are so often neglected. In the words of Subir Sahu, PhD, senior vice president for student success, “[Asian Americans] shouldn’t be the ones who are always standing up and saying something. We need allies.”
Something non-Asian American students can do is learn more about different communities, and the significance of Asia’s diverse history and culture. The United States is a diverse country, and at a university like Drexel—where the largest international student population is from China, with a large population of Vietnamese and Indian students—it’s important to be educated on a subject that so largely affects Drexel’s student and faculty population.
With the new Asian Studies minor in the College of Arts and Science, students can take a variety of courses ranging from arts to history, sociology and political science. Learn more about how you can supplement your degree with an Asian Studies minor.