A Lehigh student holds up a sign titled "Lehigh denounces xenophobia" at a silent rally on Nov. 10, 2016, on the UC Front Lawn. The rally first gathered on the front lawn before walking throughout campus, including into Fairchild-Martindale Library. (Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

Lehigh reacts to the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans

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Anti-Asian stereotypes and hate crimes have been occurring in the U.S. for decades, but have heightened and gained national attention following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

NBC News said hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by nearly 150 percent in 2020 and mostly occurred in big cities such as those in New York and California. 

A Stop AAPI Hate National Report said Pennsylvania was ranked fifth in the country in hate crimes against Asian Americans.

Members of the Lehigh community have felt disheartened by these acts and have been working to raise awareness about these issues. 

Kelly Nguyen, ‘21, of Vietnamese descent, said the rise in attacks against Asian Americans is demoralizing.

She said when the coronavirus first came to the U.S., people were making fun of Asians incessantly. 

In February 2020, an exchange university from Japan came to visit Lehigh, and Nguyen gave them a tour of Philadelphia. They went into local stores and Nguyen recalls people having an “oh no” reaction when they saw the Asian students.

“It doesn’t make sense to me to be attacking a racial group, just because of a pandemic because for the most part, we were here when it all broke out,” Nguyen said. “We have nothing to do with the disease. It’s irrational, but I guess people wanted to vent their anger out somewhere.” 

Tiffany Pang, ’22, said seeing incidents of hate crimes against Asian Americans on the news hits close to home. She fears for her family, especially her grandparents who are more vulnerable to these crimes, she said.

“It’s very sad to see that people are so willing to harm someone when they’ve absolutely done nothing,” Pang said. “They’ve been there all their life, they’ve been in the neighborhood and they’ve done nothing to cause any harm.”

Kiri Lee, director of the Asian Studies Program, said she has felt scared for about a year now with the pandemic and said these aren’t just isolated incidents. Lee believes this has been “cooking for a long time.” 

Students believe the university hasn’t done enough to support the Asian American community at Lehigh, outside of the email they sent. They are motivated to raise awareness about this issue. 

Wei Ngai, ‘22, media chair for the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, said she thinks the email Lehigh sent out addressing Asian hate hasn’t received that much traction and they haven’t really talked about it on campus. 

“Lehigh obviously is a safe space, but they’re not really talking about it,” she said. “So I guess it’s implied that it’s a safe space, but we don’t really know, or other people may not understand it.” 

Nguyen said she didn’t fit in at Lehigh even before the pandemic since she’s a minority at a predominately white institution. 

She said she doesn’t think this school has gotten more unsafe since the pandemic started last year.

“I’ll be more wary if I pass by a big group,” Nguyen said. “But if I’m just passing by people casually, then I’m not as worried.” 

Jisu Choi, ‘21, president of the Asian Cultural Society, said she’s not sure what’s available for students that are struggling during this time. 

“I think just within the community, any reaching out is honestly appreciated, as an ally, or just a friend and just showing other Asian communities that they’re there for them and they’re aware of the situation,” she said. “I think that just speaks volumes for a lot of people.”

The Asian Cultural Society (ACS) collaborated with Southeast Asia at Lehigh, Chinese Students and Scholars, Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers and the Student Senate’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee held a Zoom discussion titled “Addressing AAPI Hate” on April 15. The discussion was led by Professor Dongning Wang from the Asian Studies Department.

Choi said the intention of the event was to allow students the space to share their experiences and feelings, as well as bring awareness to AAPI hate.

“While it’s hard to focus on the negativity and talk about it, it’s important, and that’s what a lot of our efforts are going towards,” Choi said.

ACS is also holding a fundraiser that will run through April 30, in which people may donate to the Venmo handle @lehigh-acs. All proceeds will be sent to Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an organization working to fight for the civil rights of Asian Americans.

Nguyen said opening up dialogue about this issue would help a lot and believes these incidents are occurring because certain people don’t view Asians as a part of the community and instead see them as “foreigners.”

Lee said this is a complex matter because there is even some hatred within minority groups. 

She said in order to have a unified voice, the minority groups need to communicate with each other, be educated and have those uncomfortable conversations. But she said she hopes this will encourage more people to talk about it. 

“I’m hopeful we’re making very slow but steady steps toward (a) more inclusive society,” Lee said. 

Choi said it has been heartbreaking to see news and reports of violence on members of the AAPI community and people not doing anything about it. She said addressing this problem starts with engaging in these conversations and calling out these injustices instead of being bystanders. 

“I think especially in the Lehigh community, we are just a tight knit community, I would hope it wouldn’t happen here, but any instances of racism or violence against any group, I would hope that people will look out for each other and defend what’s right,” she said.

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