March 17, 2021
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
Attacks on Asian Americans are on the rise yet again. Verbal abuse, physical violence, and, in at least one confirmed case since the beginning of the new year, murder. The non-profit organization Stop AAPI Hate has received more than 3,000 accounts of anti-Asian American harassment or attacks since March of last year. As I wrote to the community last April, students from our campus encountered verbal harassment in the Town of Amherst and heard racist references in dorms. As a college, we condemn these forms of racism in the strongest possible terms and encourage our community to report incidents and to stand up against hate.
False claims about responsibility for the pandemic, along with a surge in overt white supremacist activity, are doubtless the primary causes of our current crisis, but it is also the case that anti-Asian racism has deep roots. As I wrote previously, Asian Americans have long been framed as threatening foreigners at key inflection points in American history, with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II as only one example. South Asian and Middle Eastern Americans faced hate crimes and other forms of attack, even murder, following 9/11. Asian Americans continue to be mocked and vastly underrepresented in the media and popular culture.
Anti-Asian racism also manifests itself in subtler ways—when Asian Americans are cast as the “model minority,” for example. This stereotype suggests that Asian Americans are economically successful, hard-working, and law-abiding citizens by definition. While seemingly positive, the stereotype masks the challenging realities for Asians and Asian Americans in this country: high poverty levels, for instance, and various forms of discrimination. The stereotype also serves to mark people as “foreigners.” The achievements of Asians and Asian Americans then get attributed to some ingrained essence of culture or biology, rather than to individual people in their particular contexts. The “model minority” stereotype is also used to justify racist stereotypes about other groups.
Our fight against anti-Asian racism is part of our college’s overall anti-racism plans and our efforts to oppose white supremacy. Please make use of our available resources:
- Education is a key pillar. The college affirms its commitment to educating students on the experiences of Asian Americans, providing a necessary and much-needed lens onto U.S. history and contemporary realities, both here and more globally. Our curricular offerings and community-wide intellectual strengths will be enhanced this fall, for example, when Assistant Professor Christine Noelle Peralta joins our faculty. Along with current faculty, she will teach and conduct research in Asian American Studies.
- The Office of Student Affairs (OSA) is in close conversation with the Asian Students Association, offering care and support. OSA will be in touch soon with possible opportunities for us to connect as a community.
- The Center for Restorative Practices will offer a restorative opportunity for the community to help one another deal with the impact of anti-Asian American violence and racism, the details of which will be announced shortly.
- Our Counseling Center has secured funds to help serve our students of color, including Asian and Asian Americans, whose mental health needs often fly under the radar. For mental health support, please contact the Counseling Center where all our counselors are available to help.
- We have created an online portal for reporting incidents of identity-based harm, defined as harmful actions that stem in whole or in part from bias against a perceived or actual identity of a person or group. This includes race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sex, sexual identity, national origin, religion, age, ability, etc. The portal is a single place where all reports can be made, anonymously if the reporter prefers. They will then be reviewed and appropriately handled.
- If you are a student, you can also report incidents of bias, threat, or harassment to the Dean of Students, Liz Agosto, or the Associate Dean, Dean Gendron. If you are faculty, you can report incidents to the Office of the Provost and Dean of Faculty; if staff, to the Office of Human Resources.
I ask that each one of you find ways to support our Asian and Asian American students, faculty, and staff and to show that support by intervening, should you witness any forms of racist harassment.