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Dr. Melissa May Borja, University of Michigan assistant professor of American Culture, founded Virulent Hate, a project which aims to raise awareness around the surge in anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as document resistance to hate incidents. Founded in April 2020, the project tracks anti-Asian hate crimes reported in news media across the country and focuses on identifying trends. 

The project is a collaboration between student researchers across the country as well as the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center and is funded by U-M Poverty Solutions, which provides aid to research initiatives that aim to inform policymakers and community organizations. So far, the team has parsed through 4,600 articles and found around 700 overall instances of hate against Asian Americans. 

According to Borja, a general trend in anti-Asian hate incidents is that they disproportionately target women. In Virulent Hate’s own research from 2020, around 61% of anti-Asian hate incidents were experienced by women. The shootings at Asian-owned spas in the Atlanta area last month sparked wider discussion about the impact of hate crimes against Asian Americans and the fetishization of Asian women, since six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent.

Borja said she was particularly surprised by the number of hate incidents occurring during the pandemic, even when lockdowns or other restrictions were in place.

“We saw a peak in incidents occurring in March and April of 2020 and it was very shocking to us that these incidents were happening when most of us were trying to stay home and reduce how much we go outside,” Borja said.

Borja said a distinct part of the team’s research is looking at the different forms of hate experienced by Asians and Asian Americans, including various forms of non-physical harassment and the impact of stigmatizing rhetoric used by politicians. 

“We are paying attention to forms of non-verbal harassment and verbal harassment, not just physical harassment and violence,” Borja said. “Research suggests, pretty compellingly, that it (stigmatizing rhetoric used by politicians) contributes to harm and racist backlash against Asian Americans.”

LSA freshman Krystal Huang, a student researcher on the project, said Virulent Hate’s goal is to publish information about Asian hate crimes around the country. This information is essential, Huang said, to informing people about the ongoing racism targeting Asian Americans.

Huang said when political leaders like former President Donald Trump use phrases like “China virus” and “kung flu”, this only fuels unfounded hate toward Asians.

“A lot of people don’t recognize the discrimination Asians face every day,” Huang said. “It is normalized through the model minority myth. We (at Virulent Hate) really are putting a spotlight on the rise in anti-Asian hate incidents.” 

U-M alum Jacob Gibson, a researcher on the project, said Virulent Hate initially aimed to document the rise in anti-Asian hate incidents due to the pandemic, but he said he now expects to see a continued rise in hate crimes even as people perceive the pandemic to be coming to an end.

Gibson said the project also tracks various forms of resistance to anti-Asian crimes across the nation, specifically the way activists and organizers respond to these incidents in their local communities. Gibson said this data is critical to informing local activism and raising awareness.

“We have the distinct goal of empowering community organizers,” Gibson said. “We want to use the information we have and share it as widely as we can so that organizers and activists can look at national trends and compare them with their local conditions.”

Gibson also said the project places a focus on the stories of victims and the impact of anti-Asian hate incidents on local communities rather than focusing on the perpetrators. By using resources available to the public, the project helps to tell these stories while respecting the privacy of victims.

“By using publicly available resources, we are not unearthing trauma that someone might wish to protect, but (the project) also offers a chance to center those stories,” Gibson said. “So often it’s the perpetrators that get the news headlines. By collecting the stories of individuals, there’s a chance to flip that narrative.”

Borja said she hopes Virulent Hate’s research findings are used to shape public policy, inform the activism of community organizations and improve people’s understandings of anti-Asian hate incidents.

“Our hope is that we can take this information and share it with a scholarly audience through journal articles and reports, but we also think it is really important for the broader public to understand this research, too,” Borja said. “My hope is that by providing this information we can help educators, local activists and public officials understand the way anti-Asian racism is being expressed in their particular locale.”

Virulent Hate will be publishing a general report about the information gathered and an interactive map depicting anti-Asian hate incidents across the country on May 1. 

Daily Staff Reporter Navya Gupta can be reached at