Op-ed: How the University should support AAPI students

Grace Bautista is a senior and the historian for the GW Asian American Student Association.

Over the past few weeks, Asian American and Pacific Islander student leaders at GW were faced with the horrific news of the March 16 shooting in Atlanta, where a violent hate crime took the lives of eight people, six of whom were Asian women.

During our grief and processing, many of us also learned we had finally won our yearslong fight for an Asian American studies minor. It was a bittersweet moment. For members of the Asian American Student Association who had been advocating for the minor for years, it seemed as if this moment would never arrive. But the minor’s implementation is a reminder of all we have faced this year and how far GW still needs to go to provide AAPI students with the resources and support we deserve.

In addition to the minor, campus leaders must increase funding for Asian American studies and student organizations and reform how money is allocated. AAPI student organizations and programs require funds to create and manage the initiatives that strengthen and support our community. If the Student Association can bail out the Greek fraternity Beta Theta Pi for $30,000, the SA can also ensure cultural organizations are properly funded. We are the students creating important spaces for underrepresented groups on campus, and there is no reason for the SA to continually overlook and underfund us. We also implore administrators to devote funds to the recently approved Asian American studies minor. AAPI students and our peers deserve dedicated resident Asian American studies faculty and increased course options to learn about Asian American histories and experiences.

Officials should also acknowledge the work of AAPI student advocates, like the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Alliance organizations and especially the Asian American Student Association. We withstood considerable resistance from administrators who did not see the importance of the minor or our work. Rather than take credit for implementing the minor at this politically opportune moment, administrators should uplift these organizations.

University President Thomas LeBlanc wrote in his March 18 statement in response to the Atlanta shooting that AAPI students may be “seeking spaces to process, share and receive support,” but nowhere did he acknowledge that the majority of these existing spaces are student-created, student-run and – despite our best efforts – underfunded. We led fundraisers, partnered with local community organizations, held difficult conversations and elevated our own voices. We had to prove our own histories and experiences worthwhile to pass the minor, and now we fight for visibility even as we are harassed, attacked and murdered. AAPI student leaders have never sat idly by, waiting for administrators to listen, but we ask them – and our peers and allies – to recognize our work.

Administrators must also reconsider their messaging in statements responding to anti-Asian violence. LeBlanc and Columbian College of Arts and Science Dean Paul Wahlbeck must retract and apologize for their original statements on the Atlanta shooting and anti-Asian violence, which implied that the event was not a hate crime. Though LeBlanc’s recent statement highlighting #GWinSolidarity is a marked improvement, the original statements reflected the administration’s lack of action regarding anti-Asian racism on campus. Their condolences without action did not meaningfully benefit our community, and GW must condemn the shooting as a hate crime.

In the future, administrators should consult with student organizers and students before making insensitive statements that ignore the racist causes of violence against AAPIs. Officials should also recognize international politics and its rhetoric’s place in domestic racism and partner with community organizations to advocate for racial justice, like Asian Americans Advancing Justice. We urge them to hold difficult conversations that tackle the rhetoric we saw used to incite violence against AAPIs, like the “Kung-Flu.” Failing to address this rhetoric leaves AAPI students vulnerable to being on the receiving end of this anger and fosters xenophobia on our campus. Administrators should instead work alongside community organizations to further educate our peers.

There are many other ways for administrators to combat the challenges AAPI students face. Our additional demands call for diversification of GW staff and resources, like hiring dedicated Asian American studies faculty. Furthermore, we request the disaggregation of data to fully understand the diversity of AAPI students at GW, rather than homogenizing our experiences. This will also more accurately portray GW’s diversity – or lack thereof – to potential students. Each of these measures would allow us the resources we need to tackle anti-Asian racism on campus, both through our organizations and with a robust Asian American studies program.

We must invite AAPI students and our peers to learn about the history of anti-Asian racism, as well as the organizers and activists who have continuously challenged white supremacy in all forms. Additionally, it is necessary to acknowledge that the minor program and organizing work would not be possible without the work of Black activists and others who paved the way for ethnic studies programs and organizing for racial justice. Asian American studies reminds us how our shared struggle is against white supremacy, and we can only achieve liberation by also rejecting anti-Blackness in AAPI spaces.

We thank those of you who have supported our organizations, our Asian American studies minor initiative and our community during this challenging year. As members of the Asian American Student Association said in our Statement Against Anti-Asian Violence, do not mistake our silence for inaction as student leaders grieve and process the trauma of racial violence. Student leaders should be given the time to process just like everyone else. No neat list of demands can adequately express the grief we feel over the violence against our community, our friends and our families this year. But we hope that by raising our voices – as AASA is inviting students to do – we can spread a little more empathy and understanding to cultivate a campus where AAPI students feel safe and welcome.

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