Harvard administrators responded to the rise in anti-Asian violence and hate crimes since the onset of the pandemic last year in a series of emails calling for the University to come together in support of Asian American and Pacific Islander students.
Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit which tracks hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, reported 3,795 anti-Asian hate crimes in the past year. Footage of Asians and Asian Americans being attacked or facing racial slurs have circulated on social media, and on Tuesday, a white gunman killed eight people — six of them Asian women — in three spas in the Atlanta area. Police continue to investigate whether to classify the attack as a hate crime.
In a Thursday email to Harvard affiliates, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said the “senseless murders” and other acts of violence were “fueled by racist rhetoric.” He called on Harvard to stand with Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders against hatred and racism.
“We must continue to find ways to not only support each other when these heinous crimes occur, but we must work to build a community of care and solidarity towards changing the course for our future,” Khurana wrote.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow called on Harvard affiliates in a Thursday email to stand together to counter hatred and support AAPI students who are feeling “targeted and vulnerable.”
“I long for the day when I no longer have to send such messages. It is our collective responsibility to repair this imperfect world,” he wrote.
In a separate Thursday email, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay referred to the Chinese Exclusion Act to show that the “violence has a history.” Gay wrote that the rise in hate crimes incited by anti-Asian rhetoric “stuns [her] to silence” and that she stood in solidarity with the AAPI community.
“As a society it is past time to reckon with a history that has denied Asian-Americans the respect and dignity that is a shared birthright,” Gay wrote. “Until we confront it, and until we commit to the necessary work of repair, we will never achieve the promise of a more perfect union.”
Tram Nguyen ’22, a Harvard Vietnamese Association adviser, said she felt “anger and frustration and sadness” after the Atlanta spa attacks. Still, they are not an isolated incident during the pandemic or in American history, Nguyen noted.
“This anti-Asian hatred has been entrenched in our country, in our society, since the existence of what it means to be Asian, an Asian American in this country. It is entrenched in our laws and institutions,” she said.
Harvard Korean Association co-president Sandra Moon ’22 wrote in an email that the events were “angering, upsetting, and overwhelming.”
“It’s frustrating to feel helpless, and infuriating to think of what has been tolerated and overlooked leading to such a terrible incident like this shooting to occur,” she wrote.
In this time, Nguyen said she hopes Harvard will prioritize the mental health of Asians and Asian Americans through counseling resources and developing a system for Asian students — and those of other marginalized groups — to report instances of hate and discrimination.
Linda K. Lin ’24, political and education chair of the Asian American Association, said she appreciated that the administrators’ emails brought the issue of anti-Asian hatred to students’ attention following the Atlanta spa attacks.
Still, she said the racism and prejudice revealed by the attacks are an “everyday thing” for her and other Asian Americans.
“This is an everyday thing, but people just simply don’t have the psychological capacity to care about social justice issues every single day,” Lin said. “Those emails are just a reminder to me that there’s a time limit for how much these issues matter. I can’t blame people, but it’s really disheartening to know that I have to take advantage of this time for people to care.”
Asian American student groups gathered Thursday night for a vigil in solidarity and remembrance of the victims of Tuesday’s shootings and all AAPI individuals who have suffered from anti-Asian hate crimes.
—Staff writer Audrey M. Apollon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.