Opinion guest column

#StopAsianHate: A call to action for the MIT community

UA Diversity Council denounces anti-Asian racism and calls for solidarity with Asian members of the MIT community through collective action

As written in the Undergraduate Association Diversity Council (UADC) Charter, the UADC is empowered to “craft policy and statements addressed to the Institute”. Recent events, namely the media attention on anti-Asian racism and acts of white supremacy has led UADC to speak with one voice to denounce white supremacy and anti-Asian racism; address the hurt and pain our community feels in the wake of these violent acts; and demonstrate our solidarity with all Asian members of our community. 

Undoubtedly, MIT would not be the same without the Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. The AAPI community is represented in our students, faculty, and administration; our housing staff, dining staff, and lab researchers; as well as first responders and front-line workers in the Cambridge community fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic. We acknowledge the pain many members of our community are feeling and also protest the widespread invalidation by the media and others who use sympathetic language in reference to white perpetrators rather than affirming the grief people are grappling with at this time. Whether or not you identify as Asian, it is important to understand in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Silence is violence. To not be actively anti-racist is to be actively complicit in the violence of racism. 

We acknowledge the history of anti-Asian racism in America. From the 1854 California Supreme Court ruling (People v. Hall) that people of Asian descent could not testify against a White person in court; to the Chinese massacre of 1871 where hundreds of white and Hispanic people entered Old Chinatown in Los Angeles, CA and attacked, bullied, robbed, and murdered Chinese residents in cold blood; to the federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibiting the immigration of Chinese laborers; to the Rock Springs massacre of 1885 where 150 white miners brutally attacked their Chinese coworkers forcing them out of the town; to the Japanese internment camps of the 1940s impacting over 100,000 Japanese people; to the murder of Vincent Chin by two white men in 1982; to the overwhelming racism and xenophobia expressed by the former President of the United States in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic; to countless other anti-Asian and racist acts which have not received media coverage or a page in a history book. We also recognize the diversity in the Asian community and protest the historical narrative which limits the perception of Asian to those of East Asian descent and neglects the effect of racism on South Asians.

We also acknowledge the history of racism at MIT. From MIT’s relationship with the Wampanoag and Massachusett tribes and the land it currently occupies to the connections our founding president William Barton Rogers had with American chattel slavery; from the perpetuation of the model minority myth to the history of xenophobia and exclusion toward those of Latino descent; all these examples demonstrate MIT’s troubling past and present with racism. Although the Institute purports to have made strides toward justice, it still has a long way to go. For far too long, MIT has excused racism, fetishization, and anti-Asian sentiment within the Institute. We must begin to acknowledge that these issues cannot be divorced from our campus.

The UA Diversity Council calls on the MIT senior leadership to demonstrate efforts to hire more AAPI mental health counselors and mental support for underrepresented minorities. Racial trauma is not a new kind of trauma, and with the recent media attention around racial violence both locally and nationally, MIT should be hiring more counselors who specialize in racial trauma. Moreover, the lack of accessibility to mental health and behavioral services within MIT Medical not only sheds a poor light on MIT’s commitment to ensuring positive community morale, but also further stigmatizes requesting mental health support and lifts the already high barrier for underrepresented minorities to seek professional help from mental health services. 

We also ask MIT senior leadership to facilitate and host more open spaces for communication regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). We ask for more centralized communication, strategy, and planning within the senior leadership, schools, and departments around DEI, instead of our current model of decentralization which has proven time and again to be an impediment in enacting DEI initiatives.

Not only is it important to acknowledge, speak out, and support those affected by injustice, but it is equally pertinent to investigate the breakdown of Asian-American student enrollment at the Institute. Simply stating that 36.1% of the domestic undergraduate population is “Asian” does a disservice to underrepresented ethnicities within the Asian-American community who fall into this aggregation; it also facilitates the trope of a monolithic Asian community dominating higher education. We ask the MIT administration to begin disaggregating demographic data and investigating ways of making more targeted attempts at recruiting and yielding underrepresented ethnicities within the Asian diaspora. 

Combating racism and its byproducts is not only the responsibility of MIT senior leadership, but also of every member of our community and beyond. We encourage everyone to think about the intersectionalities of identity that are represented in these events. We saw on March 16 how six working-class Asian women aged 33 to 74 were targeted as a byproduct of fetishization and “fixation on sexual temptation.” We saw on April 15 how four members of the Indianapolis Sikh community were targeted in a mass shooting at a local FedEx facility. Not only are these act of white terrorism sickening, but they also demonstrate the role of racism in these events. Racism also exists at MIT. Although MIT takes pride in its diversity, we consistently fail to adequately collect and sufficiently report-out racial and gender data, let alone educate and support those who come from marginalized communities and intersectional identities. 

We encourage all MIT community members to:

We would also like to heavily underscore the work of other AAPI organizations on campus and within the greater Boston area whose advocacy for the AAPI community has been longstanding and under-acknowledged. On campus, MIT’s Asian American Initiative (AAI) focuses on advocacy for the pan-Asian community, from hosting discussions and bringing light to important issues to fighting for greater AAPI civic engagement. In Boston, there are a range of AAPI organizations, from Asian American Civic Association (AACA) and Boston Asian Youth Essential Service (Boston Asian YES) to Chinese Progressive Association and the South Asian Workers’ Center.

We stand in solidarity with our Asian friends, families, professors, and community members who remain terrified that someone’s “bad day” could be the termination of their or their loved ones’ lives. The undersigned organizations commit to being anti-racist, speaking out on injustice, and sharing the resources above to support the MIT community.

Signed by:

If you are interested in getting your organization involved with the UA Diversity Council, please email ua-diversity@mit.edu.

Kelvin Green II ’22 is Chair of the UA Diversity Council and UA Officer on Diversity.
Ishana Shastri ’23 is Vice Chair of the UA Diversity Council.