Mobilized by last week’s racially motivated assault on two Asian students, the faculty of the Asian-Pacific Islander American Studies program have demanded that the administration take steps to eliminate similar crimes on campus.
Led by American Culture Prof. Amy Stillman, the faculty sent an open letter to top-level University leadership calling on it to “honor its commitment to valuing diversity, by taking a public stand against racially motivated bias and attacks, and to marshall the necessary resources to ensure that the wider university community can collaborate collectively to end such race-based bias and intimidation.”
The response came after a student urinated on two Asian students from a second-story balcony while insulting their Asian heritage.
University President Mary Sue Coleman and E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, responded with a letter of their own. The letter stated that they share the faculty’s outrage and promised to take steps to end such discrimination, including opening up more lines of communication to increase dialogue about hate crimes and make the University’s efforts to combat them more transparent.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said it is not yet clear what steps the University will take, but that they will probably involve the Office of Communications, which will work to share information about hate crimes.
Although the timeframe has not yet been defined, Peterson said, “We’re working on that very rapidly.”
Stillman said the faculty is not yet satisfied, but that the administration’s initial response is a step in the right direction.
“As a full response, though, it’s not satisfactory,” she said. “(Coleman) is president of the University. She needs to address not only campus climate, but curriculum.”
Stillman said more coursework on diversity is needed, adding that the current race and ethnicity requirement is inadequate on its own because not many courses teach about Asian culture. She characterized the problem as “unevenness.”
“If the administrators are proclaiming an institutional commitment to diversity, they must be held to it,” she said.
In her eight years at the University, Stillman said, there has never been a commission to study or assess the status of Asian-American students, faculty or staff.
“It is a widely known fact that in the Fleming (Administration) Building, there is not a single professional administrator who is Asian,” Stillman said. “The only Asians in Fleming are clerical staff.”
Lester Monts, associate provost for academic affairs, one of the recipients of the letter, wrote a personal letter to the faculty in response. He promised to set up a meeting to discuss the experience of the University’s Asian community. He also said the two students who committed the crime would be brought to justice, but did not specify how.
Stillman said an article in Wednesday’s Michigan Daily spurred the group to send the letter. She said faculty members were particularly surprised to hear that many other Asian students had similar experiences of racially based abused.
Stillman said prejudice against Asians is widespread, though not always as extreme as last week’s incident. It is common, she said, for people to pull back the skin next to their eyes to mock the shape of an Asian’s face and to make disparaging remarks about Chinese food or chopsticks. Even faculty don’t escape anti-Asian prejudice – people often condescendingly compliment Stillman on her English, she said.
“And I’m a faculty member – hello?” she said.
The group of faculty that sent the letter plans to meet tomorrow morning to make further plans to decrease the number of hate crimes on campus. They will discuss holding a town hall meeting sometime next week to get the problems out in the open.
The United Asian American Organizations, an umbrella group overseeing Asian student groups on campus, discussed how to react to last week’s crime in their general meeting yesterday. Ideas include creating a forum for all cultural groups to air their grievances and holding a vigil to draw attention to the situation.
During Wednesday’s meeting, about 50 or 60 students relayed their experience with racism on campus, UAAO finance chair Christopher Ng said.
Ng stressed that last week’s crime was not unfamiliar to him or other UAAO members.
“There are times where I just walked out of class where people will say, ‘Hey, go back to China,'” Ng said.
He added that a common concern of students at the meeting was also when people compliment them on their English – as if they are surprised that they are able to speak the language properly.
The administration has done an adequate job preventing racially motivated crimes aimed at Asians, Ng said. He complimented multicultural programs in the residence halls, but said the University should do more to educate freshmen on diversity and fund student groups that emphasize diversity.
Stillman said that the problem is not confined to Asians, but that prejudice against the racial group is underreported in the media. She said that it does not draw as much attention as bias against other groups because Asians are typically referred to as “overrepresented” minorities, especially in a campus setting.
She says that this perception masks the truth about racism against Asians.