On one of his first days at the University, LSA junior Andrew Guzman was called a “chink.”
“I was offended because first of all, I’m not Chinese, and he was utterly racist against me,” Guzman said.
At a party, a student asked LSA sophomore Denny Chan, “Are you related to Jackie Chan?”
Whether being asked “Can you teach me karate?” or called “Chinaman,” dozens of other Asian students can testify to enduring similar acts at the University.
But enough is enough.
In the past weeks, student organizations on campus have mobilized in response to an alleged incident of ethnic intimidation, recently called into doubt, in which two University students were reported to have verbally harassed and urinated on two Asian students.
Regardless of whether the official investigation proves or disproves the incident, many Asian students are using the incident to highlight what they say is a campus climate that condones ethnic discrimination and intimidation.
At an Asian and Pacific Islander Americans town hall meeting Monday, students said the incident, now in dispute, is just one example of the types of situations Asian students and faculty face daily. At least 50 Asian students attended the meeting and most said they’ve encountered racial harassment at the University before.
Some said they receive it frequently. And many students aren’t entirely sure why they are targets.
But overall, whether because of fear or complacency, students at the meeting said they have kept the encounters to themselves.
Guzman, president of the Filipino American Student Association, said one reason Asians might be easy targets is because members of Asian communities are often seen as quiet, nonconfrontational and hesitant to defend themselves.
“There is the view that we will take things no matter what happens and not do anything about it,” Guzman said. “People think they can get away with it. A lot of people also think certain comments aren’t necessarily racist or derogatory.”
Guzman added that the “model minority” stereotype influences the treatment many Asians receive.
“There is a strong belief that discrimination doesn’t happen to Asian Americans. No one views us as a minority,” Guzman said. “And even in that sense, having that stereotype (of the model minority) is discriminatory in itself because it does not take into account people’s different experiences in life and with discrimination.”
Some Asian students, such as LSA sophomore and United Asian American Organizations external chair Denny Chan, say they believe this lack of recognition as a minority group also impacts the frequency at which incidents of ethnic intimidation and discrimination are reported.
“There is the feeling that your concern might be shrugged off,” Chan said. “And when you experience (discrimination) alone, you don’t have the realization that it’s so frequent.”
“When these things happen to you, there is also confusion around what avenues there are that you can take,” Chan continued. “Many (Asians) don’t know about existing services. We need to create a safe zone so students feel comfortable reporting.”
While Asian organizations continue to discuss the reasons for the prevalence of racial harassment on the campus, the groups have also begun to take actions to create awareness of the issue.
After the alleged incident of ethnic intimidation on Sept. 15, Asian student groups founded APIA Change, a group that is trying to devise ways to improve the campus climate. Recently, APIA Change has begun cataloguing incidents of racial harassment toward Asians. But leaders of the group hope the University will aid them in taking a strong stance against racial harassment.
“There is no clear signal to offenders that this must stop – that this is wrong,” Chan added. “The administration hasn’t sent this clear message, so it’s just going to continue.”
Guzman said that, while the underlying point is that discrimination has always existed with regards to Asians, it is interesting that it took a publicized incident to spark debate and discussion.
“In my view, (Asians) as a whole are not a very united group, and unless you have a huge mobilization, a small minority is often viewed as being radical or whiny,” Guzman said. “But now that group is getting larger, and people are starting to take notice. As a community, we need to educate, strengthen and empower ourselves.”
“Of course this isn’t just an issue limited to the campus,” said Stephanie Kao, a Business senior and co-chair of the United Asian American Organizations. “However, the kind of support we get and the kind of climate set up by the administration doesn’t support diversity as much as they would like to believe.”
While there are people in the Asian community who would stress assimilation and say these issues aren’t relevant, it all depends on how you look at it, Kao said.
Kao said that although views differ on the issue, as in any minority community, the issues raised by this incident pose important questions.
“Why is it important to fit into the society?” Kao said. “Why can’t we be unique with our culture and our heritage?”