Opinion guest column

Recommendations towards a better MIT for Asian Americans

One year after the Atlanta spa shootings, the MIT Asian American Initiative presents five recommendations for the Institute

Last March, six Asian women were killed in the Atlanta spa shootings. The assailant admitted to having been motivated by a “sex addiction,” a symptom of American imperial sexual attitudes and a long history of gender-based violence against Asian women. For many of us in the MIT Asian American Initiative (AAI) and the Asian American community, the Atlanta spa shootings came after an already long rise in hate crimes against our community. Only after these shootings did others start to acknowledge our pain. When asked by MIT administration to assist in planning a vigil space for the community, we did so, despite our grief and anger. The vigil that MIT held did not live up to the commitments the administration had made to us. This included not announcing the event to the entire MIT community, centering religious voices, failing to plan long-term support for the Asian American community, and not following through on events for Asian American heritage month. After this, we at AAI understood that we require and deserve better from our school. Over the past year, we have been working on these recommendations for MIT.

The Asian American community at MIT is one of the largest marginalized groups on campus, encompassing over 21 Asian American cultural groups. However, we still do not have enough culturally competent mental health professionals, representation within faculty, staff, and senior-level administration, or a physical community space. Additionally, few classes are offered for Asian Americans to explore, and the broader MIT community to learn about the histories and languages of our heritage. Lastly, the monolithic term “Asian American” fails to acknowledge our vastly different cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, and experiences, necessitating the disaggregation of data. All of these steps are essential for MIT to provide a truly inclusive and supportive environment for Asian Americans.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected all of our lives in different ways. Our Asian American community has also had to manage the burden of a surge in anti-Asian violence and rhetoric, fearing for ourselves, our families, our friends, and our communities. Between March 2020 and Sept. 2021, over 10,370 hate incidents against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community were reported in the United States. Given that Asian communities are one of the communities least likely to report hate incidents due to systemic barriers such as language or distrust about outcomes of reporting, this number is staggering.

However, this is nothing new. American history is littered with anti-Asian racism. We remember the 1871 Chinese massacre in Los Angeles, the 1907 Bellingham riots, and the surveillance of South Asian Americans post-9/11. Anti-Asian racism has been magnified by the settler American government throughout our country’s past, from the Chinese Exclusion Act to Alien Land Laws to World War II Japanese internment camps. The continuation of state-sanctioned anti-Asian violence has resulted in the deportation of Southeast Asian refugees and the killings of Christian Hall and Angelo Quinto. Recently, we witnessed the unprovoked killings of Michelle Go and Christina Yuna Lee in New York City. These more recent attacks are symptoms of deeply entrenched anti-Asian racism that has long festered in the U.S. — a manifestation of the white supremacy that this nation relies on.

As a result, AAI presents five recommendations for the Institute below, in no particular order. Our student organization does not claim to be the sole voice for the Asian American student population. However, AAI’s members are all Asian American undergraduate students who have come together to write these recommendations based on our experiences. We have spoken to and incorporated feedback from various Asian culture student groups at MIT to make this list as relevant and representative as possible. AAI has also collaborated with over 70 other Asian American student organizations from around the country, through the Intercollegiate Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Coalition, to call on our respective universities to act on many of the following recommendations.

  1. MIT must hire culturally competent mental health professionals for the Asian American population. 

  2. MIT must create a permanent, physical space for Asian American students and increase cultural representation.

  3. MIT must offer courses in Asian American studies, expand the level of Asian language classes, and install ethnic studies programs.

  4. MIT must hire more Asian American faculty, staff, and senior-level administrators.

  5. MIT must disaggregate data of Asian American enrollment, graduation, and admissions by ethnicity.

Read our full statement, learn more about each recommendation, and sign your support at http://asianamerican.mit.edu/recs/.

This article was written by Amelia Dogan ’23, Jason Li ’24, and Sophia Zheng ’24, members of the MIT Asian American Initiative, a student-run organization for Asian American advocacy, allyship, and civic engagement. Contact them at aai-recs@mit.edu or on their Instagram @mit.aai.