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Statement on anti-Asian racism

May is National Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month and the United States (U.S.) Senate recently passed a bill to allocate resources to track and respond to anti-Asian hate crimes. This is an important moment to renew or start a commitment to ridding our communities of anti-Asian racism. As a group of diversity officers, in collaboration with the Diversity Training & Education unit in the Office of Diversity & Inclusion (ODI), we want to offer support to the entire UMD community as we seek to be in solidarity with our Asian Pacific Islander Desi American ( APIDA*) and Asian community members. We are heartbroken about the violence and deaths that APIDA communities have endured as a result of the rise in anti-Asian animus. It is abhorrent that an often overlooked history of gendered racism contributed to the violent attacks we saw in Atlanta and continue to see in everyday interactions. Sadly, approximately one month after the deadly violence in Georgia, a gunman in Indianapolis killed seven people, including four Sikh individuals.

We recognize that anti-Asian racism and xenophobia are not new phenomena in the United States. Since the mid-1800s, racial discrimination and violence have been visited upon the bodies and psyches of people from the Asian diaspora. In their show of Asian/APIDA solidarity, our colleagues with the Critical Race Initiative offered a brief history of state-sanctioned anti-immigration laws that targeted Asian peoples. It’s important for us to be aware of this history, one that is often not taught as part of U.S. history. For example, when the U.S. Congress passed the Page Act of 1875, the anti-immigration law resulted in women from “China, Japan or any Oriental [sic] country” being characterized as “lewd and immoral” and sexually promiscuous. Such politically sanctioned characterizations have contributed to racist stereotypes and tropes that lead to the dehumanization of Asian women and foster the types of racist violence that ended the lives of six Asian-identified women working at Asian-owned businesses in Atlanta.

To our Asian and APIDA friends, students, and colleagues, we hope that no one is dealing with these traumas alone, and we endeavor to work together to transform communities at UMD to be more equitable. As a community, it is important that we act in accordance with anti-racist values.

As a group, we would like to offer the following words of encouragement to all UMD students, staff, faculty, and administrators.

To all Asian and APIDA folx:

  • Be gentle with yourselves as you are likely to experience a range of emotional, physical and psychological responses. Previously, in a statement about coronavirus-related anti-Asian sentiment, ODI described what some of these reactions could be and identified appropriate supportive campus resources for those experiencing distress. At this time, it could be important to highlight that many Asian and APIDA folks might experience rage, grief, terror, helplessness, and shame, which are common emotions in the face of recurring racial harassment and targeting.

  • Be in community with others who can validate your experiences and offer mutual support. Giving and receiving support from friends and family can be calming and energizing. Asking for help from instructors, religious leaders, and counselors can be transformative. Seeking assistance, which can be difficult, is also a validation of your humanity.

  • Engage, express, and celebrate the creativity of your heritage. Check out this care package curated by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Creating or enjoying artistic expression can be healing and calming.

  • Speak up, if, and when, you can. Historically, the myth of the model minority has attempted to silence the voices of some Asian-identified individuals. According to Learning for Justice, the model minority myth “characterizes Asian Americans as a polite, law-abiding group who have achieved a higher level of success than the general population through some combination of innate talent and pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant striving.” This myth has harmed Asian and APIDA individuals historically, socially, and psychologically, and sometimes it has resulted in a complicated relationship with publicly resisting racism. If you opt for private resistance, electronic methods of reporting have proven efficacious for many Asian and APIDA folx. On campus, you can file a report with Bias Incident Support Services or with the Office of Civil Rights & Sexual Misconduct. You can also report an incident at stopaapihate.org.

To the Entire Community

  • Engage the Asian and APIDA people in your community, including students, staff and faculty, and understand what they may need with regard to feeling safe in the community. Listen. Acknowledge the diversity of ethnic groups among Asian and APIDA communities. Be prepared for a plurality of responses from a diverse community with diverse needs, then develop a pluralistic response.

  • Work to create a community of collective care, so that hate will not survive here. At the interpersonal level, speak up!! Develop skills for interrupting racial discrimination and microaggressions. Hollaback! in partnership with Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) is offering free online bystander training related to intervening in anti-Asian harassment. Sign up!

  • Commit to learning about Asian and APIDA history, and keep abreast of contemporary challenges experienced by these communities. One of the common refrains on social media and in news interviews where Asian and APIDA history is being shared is, “I didn’t know that. I wish that had been taught in my history courses.” We are all lifelong learners. Expose yourself to resources for educators and community organizers from which you can learn about Asian and Asian American experiences. Learn from this resource created by a group of students in an intro course from the Asian American Studies Program.

  • Listen to the voices of the famous and not-so-famous. Seek out academics, as well as scholars from other professions. Center the voices of the marginalized among Asian-descended peoples—such as darker-skinned people, poor communities, immigrants, people with disabilities, and sex workers.

  • In your academic discipline or area of responsibility, commit to engaging scholarship, from blogs to scholarly journals, that can be used to inform course content, classroom climate, policy formation, student advising, supervising employees, and peer interactions.

  • Find your voice and act against anti-Asian violence. The pervasiveness of anti-Asian racism offers an entry point for all of us.

In conclusion, in Dare to Lead, New York Times bestselling author and social work researcher, Brene Brown offers the following quote:

“Empathy is not about knowing or understanding the experience. It’s about connecting with the feeling someone is expressing. It’s about seeing the person, hearing them, and believing that what they are experiencing is real for them without factoring in what they’re sharing means for you or the organization. It’s just about them in that moment. It’s about feeling for them and being with them without judgment and keeping the focus on them. It’s a skill and practice.”

As a community, now is the time for us to deepen our empathy for Asian and APIDA individuals and communities that have been harmed by this historical and ongoing violence. To be clear, empathy is not enough, as many of our Asian-identified friends and colleagues have told us. We must act to protect and care for ourselves and one another.

This statement was developed by Diversity Training & Education with input from some members of the University of Maryland College Park Council of Diversity Officers.

* The acronym APIDA is being used at the request of UMD APIDA-identified student leaders.