Photo Courtesy of Nirali Patel

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The University of Michigan hosted a live Zoom discussion Wednesday regarding anti-Asian hate and addressing mental health topics for Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in light of rising anti-Asian hate crimes across the United States. The event was co-sponsored by the Steve Fund, a national organization dedicated to the mental health and emotional well being of young people of color, and the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan. The event was moderated by Dr. Marcia Liu, a mental health coordinator for Hunter College.

The virtual event included keynote speaker Kevin Nadal, a professor at John Jay College and the City University of New York (CUNY), along with four panelists: Dr. Anmol Satiani, assistant director for clinical training at Depaul University; Dr. Ian Shin, assistant professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Michigan; Dr. Sam Museus, professor of education studies at University of California-San Diego and Dr. Hendry Ton, associate vice chancellor for health equity, diversity and inclusion at University of California-Davis. 

Liu said she hoped the presentation would help clarify the advocacy strategies that could be used to uplift AAPI students on campus. The virtual event was a continuation of the discussion that occurred last week, which was abruptly cancelled after a zoom-bomber caused a significant disruption to the event with racist and explicit remarks. 

“We were forced to end the event abruptly and, I know I can speak for myself, I was quite shaken by this intrusion, and we wanted to acknowledge how this event was traumatic for us, as well as for many of our participants,” Liu said. 

In a pre-recording of a discussion between Nadal and Liu, Nadal reflected on last week’s disruption. 

“I think one of the things that this (incident) brought up for me is this whole idea of racial trauma or historical trauma,” Nadal said. “It brought up overt experiences with racism, brought up feelings of uncertainty, or lack of control in the world. But, like I mentioned on the actual day that all this happened, I really do believe that we are resilient people. The lesson is that you can’t shut us out-we will continue fighting (and) advocating for justice.” 

Nadal said he believes one can never get too comfortable or too complacent so long as white supremacy exists, and he emphasized that Asian Americans are not a monolith identity. 

“While it’s important to name certain cultural values and patterns that might be more or less common across different Asian American groups, it’s also important to understand that each country of origin comes with unique histories of oppression and colonialism,” Nadal said.“(You must) really be able to challenge any of your biases about what you view as being normalized.”

After the pre-recording ended, Shin elaborated on how AAPI emerged as a political identity as a result of the Asian American studies out of the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1960s, which contributed to the ethnic studies sect that advocated for representation of people of color and Indigenous Peoples in academia. 

“But overall, I think what AAPI studies does is it provides a space where AAPI students feel that they belong,” Shin said. “It benefits the entire campus because in the United States, there’s a relative ratio of Asian American Pacific Islander history from the history books, so many Asian American students grow up not really understanding the contributions and also the resilience of Asian American communities.” 

Satiani discussed factors that affect AAPI seeking mental health services such as the stigma, lack of access to AAPI counselors, time constraints and cost. She also explained that the diversity of the Asian experience and identity also becomes a challenge for Asian American cultural centers when advocating for resources. 

“I think it’s also challenging when students themselves don’t necessarily identify with this label — maybe they may identify with their ethnic identity, for example, but not with the label,” Satiani said. “And so then, what does that mean when people in a university are trying to advocate for resources for this umbrella group of the students themselves.” 

Museus added that the existing structures in society such as media also impact the depictions of AAPI narratives in academia. He said that oftentimes because of stereotypes and assumptions about who AAPI are has led to underrepresentation of Pacific Islander, Southeast Asian and other voices and experiences that belong to the larger umbrella Asian group.

“I think that oftentimes when we have conversations about AAPIs, we are privileged to be the voices of East Asian communities,” Museus said. “It’s important for us to really think about how we’re complicating the narrative constantly, and making sure that all voices that are impacted by the conversation are centered in it.”

The panelists later discussed other ways outside of counseling and psychological services to improve support for AAPI students on campus.

Ton said universities can begin acknowledging the mental health of AAPI students by making a strong statement on the recognition of their pain. He also discussed how mental health challenges came from anti-Asian hate in recent years along with the importance of building a sense of community to challenge racial injustice. 

“If there was a word that I would attach to the significance of these past years, it’s community,” Ton said. “We’ve seen that our sense of community has been significantly compromised (from social distancing). At the same time, we saw communities come together to challenge racial injustice, and we saw the strength of what communities and solidarity do moving forward.”

He said that given a broader understanding of structural inequities that prevent certain communities from being fully welcomed in society, there needs to be a way to create a sense of belonging and safe space for communities. 

“I think that the lesson that I am trying to take and encourage others to reflect on is ‘what does it mean to be in community now?’” Ton said. “Humans need that sense of community (and) so how do we fulfill that need in the context of the lessons that we’ve learned over these recent times?”

Daily Staff Reporter Nirali Patel can be reached at