MIT student groups unite against anti-Asian racism after Atlanta shootings

UA and Asian student groups issue statements, host events, and start support initiatives for AAPI community

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Students organized a candlelit vigil outside of Kresge last Saturday to stand against the hatred and racism experienced by the AAPI community.
Frankie Schulte

Several student groups at MIT issued statements, hosted events, and launched support initiatives for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in light of the Atlanta spa shootings on March 16. 

Eight individuals were killed across three massage spas in the Atlanta area; six of those individuals were women of Asian descent. The suspect for the shootings, Robert Aaron Long, has since been charged with murder and aggravated assault. 

President L. Rafael Reif wrote an email to the MIT community expressing “outrage and solidarity” in light of the shootings, and the recent surge in anti-Asian violence which he called “a cruel signature of this pandemic year” on March 18.

Danielle Geathers ’22, Undergraduate Association (UA) president, and Yu Jing Chen ’22, UA vice president, expressed solidarity shortly after, in an email on March 19. 

“From the systemic fetishization and objectification of Asian women to the xenophobia attached to COVID-19 that has led to a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, it is clear that there is much to be unpacked, a host of systemic problems baked into our education systems, governments, and a number of actors,” Geathers and Chen wrote. 

They also wrote that the MIT community can “expect to hear more from the UA in the coming weeks” regarding support initiatives. These initiatives have been led by members across the UA committees, and in particular, the UA Diversity Council (UADC).

The UA has been working with MIT’s leadership in encouraging faculty to offer support resources and extend deadlines for students, Chen said in an interview with The Tech. The UA has also added a “Stop AAPI Hate” page on their website sharing information on community events and opportunities for getting involved. 

Chen said that for the future, the UA is planning a day or week of events challenging people to take part in supporting the Asian community in the Cambridge and Boston area.

UA Assistant Officer on Diversity Kelvin Green II ’22 wrote in an email to The Tech that the UADC is looking to publish a statement later this week “denouncing anti-Asian racism and [showing] solidarity amongst a diverse set of student organizations with the Asian members of the MIT community.”

Several AAPI student groups at MIT joined forces to offer an AAPI Community Discussion on March 22 open to all MIT students. The event was hosted by the Asian American Association, Asian American Initiative (AAI), Association of Taiwanese Students, Chinese Students Club (CSC), and the South Asian Association of Students. About 50 students attended, AAI exec member Kathryn Tso ’22 said in an interview with The Tech. 

The discussion began with a moment of silence, followed by answers to prompt questions made by the CSC on the digital canvas platform Padlet. Questions included “What was your initial reaction to the Atlanta shootings?” and “How do you see your Asian identity intersecting with the other parts of your identity?” Students were then sent to smaller break-out rooms to discuss. 

AAI also hosted an internal discussion the previous week covering similar topics. Both discussions were “special” to Chen in different ways: the internal discussion “resonated… because it was with the people I saw more frequently,” while the community discussion had “people coming from all over different clubs,” she said. 

As an Asian American organization based on advocacy and civic engagement, AAI has been working on other AAPI support initiatives, several of which are through a group called Team Stop AAPI Hate. 

Prior to the discussion, AAI joined an intercollegiate Asian Pacific Islander Desi American coalition, where several U.S. colleges worked on an institute demands statement, raised money, and hosted a speaker panel. AAI is now working on publishing an MIT-specific Institute demands document advocating for “more robust Asian American studies classes” and the creation of an “Asian American space” on campus, Chen said. 

Chen, along with Lily Cheng Zedler G, Jennifer Leung SM ’20, Chloe Lim G, Nhat Nguyen ’21, and Traiwat Trairatvorakul G, also recently hosted multiple MIT Stop Asian Hate candlelight installations on April 2 and April 3. The first installation on Killian Court served as an “artistic symbol with the MIT dome,” Zedler wrote in an email to The Tech. The second installation on Kresge Oval served as a vigil “for the AAPI community at MIT to come mourn together and reflect.” 

Zedler wrote that an estimated 120 people, including attendees and volunteers, attended on April 3 to see the display of 3,795 candles, meant to represent the “3,795 reported hate incidents against AAPIs in the last year alone.”

“The candles reflect the magnitude of what the AAPI community has experienced but also the strength they exhibit,” Zedler wrote.

Those seeking Institute support can contact Student Support Services, GradSupport, and MIT Medical’s Mental Health and Counseling Services. Those interested in supporting the AAPI community can learn more at Stop AAPI Hate. The Institute Community and Equity Office is also hosting two Bystander Intervention Trainings on April 22 and 29 through Hollaback. AAI meets weekly on Wednesday and Friday to discuss and work on projects related to social justice; community members may email to get involved.