On March 12, the College hosted a roundtable discussion in light of the recent attacks on members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the United States. The conversation was hosted by Provost Margaret McFadden, who was joined by four Colby professors with expertise in Asian American studies: Visiting Assistant Professor of History Danae Jacobson, Assistant Professor of English Jay Sibara, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Laura Sachiko Fugikawa, and Assistant Professor of Psychology Jin Goh. The 50-minute discussion was pre-recorded on Zoom and available for members of the Colby community to watch.
The presentation began with an introduction from McFadden, who shared that in 2020, there were over 3,000 recorded anti-Asian incidents in the United States. McFadden highlighted a few of the many violent attacks perpetrated against Asian Americans, including the death of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai immigrant who was senselessly pushed onto the ground in his San Francisco neighborhood this January. She also shared the story of an Asian woman who was assaulted waiting outside a bakery line in Flushing Queens in New York City.
Such acts of violence around the country have struck a chord with many Colby students, like Amy Liu ’23 from New York City.
“I’m worried about my mom who lives alone in New York,” Liu said. “And it’s just beyond me that it could be anyone’s family walking home at any time. I’m also scared for myself because there is just so much hatred and attacks around that it really just could be you next.”
To give a historical context to this modern-day anti-AAPI racism, Jacobson delved into the history of Chinese immigrants in the country and early anti-Chinese sentiments.
Jacobson pointed to the mass immigration of Chinese laborers to California in the 1840s to work in the mines during the gold rush. While living in California, the Chinese were subjected to unfair laws and treatment. Jacobson mentioned laws that prevented Chinese people from testifying against their white counterparts and an 1878 California court decision barring Chinese immigrants from becoming naturalized citizens.
Sibara continued the conversation by talking about the long-held stereotype that Asian Americans are prone to carrying diseases. While many Asian Americans are now scapegoated for COVID-19, the idea of health nativism — that people who are not white are biologically inferior — is not new. Additionally, Sibara mentioned the establishment of Angel Island, an immigration stop-point located in the San Francisco Bay where Asian immigrants were subject to invasive medical exams because of their race.
Rounding out the discussion were Fugikawa and Goh. Fugikawa brought up the 1982 killing of Vincent Chin as an example of Asians being blamed for domestic problems. Chin, a Chinese American draftsman from Michigan, was murdered by two white men who were mad about the Japanese taking over the auto industry and mistook Chin for being Japanese.
Finally, Goh talked about two ideologies he focuses on in his psychology lab: the perpetual foreigner stereotype and the model minority myth, which have both pitted minority groups against each other.
The roundtable discussion was just one of a few events the College planned in response to the rise of discrimination against AAPI people. The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion partnered with Prevention. Action. Change., Defend Yourself, and the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine to host a two-part workshop, “Recognizing and Responding to Anti-AAPI Hate and Xenophobia,” on March 22 and 29. There was also a gathering on Miller lawn Tuesday, March 23, to honor the victims of the Atlanta spa shootings.
“Unfortunately, I am not satisfied with Colby’s response to the rise of AAPI hate crimes, and there is so much more than they could have done — honestly, anything would have been better,” Yumi Kang ’24 said in response to the gathering on Miller lawn.
Kang said that the Miller Lawn gathering felt “artificial and superficial.”
“This is not indicative of the individuals involved in planning the event, but it felt like it was a performance more so than a time of mourning and remembrance; the gathering itself lasted a little over ten minutes, and the content discussed felt so different,” Kang said.
Kang also pointed to the inconvenient timing of the event in the middle of a school day.
“I have so many AAPI friends and allies that were unable to make it to the gathering because they had classes or other pre-scheduled appointments,” Kang said.
As of Wednesday, March 24, the only formal response provided by the College has been emails from the Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Tayo Clyburn.
~ Fiona Huo ‘23
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