Asian students at Oklahoma State have felt the sting of racism this past year amid COVID-19 but were encourage by university President Burns Hargis’ statement denouncing hate and intolerance following the recent mass shooting in Georgia.
The Atlanta spa shootings earlier this month resulted in the death of eight Americans including six Asian women and brought the issue of anti-Asian racism into the national spotlight with millions sharing #StopAsianHate on social media. Hargis made his position clear in a statement last Monday in which he decried racism against Asians in America and said the university is “outraged.”
“We stand united with our Asian students, faculty, staff and community members and oppose the inexplicable hate, discrimination and intolerance that has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hargis said. “We know this has caused fear and anger on our campus community and in the broader Stillwater community.”
Nearly 480 Asian students are enrolled on OSU's Stillwater campus this semester, making up just over 2% of the entire student body, not including multiracial or international students. Social chair for OSU’s Asian-American Student Association Catherine Xiong said she generally feels pretty safe on campus but has experienced some behavior that makes her “uncomfortable.”
“We do get looks, especially when they hear us talk,” Xiong said. “Then they are like, ‘Oh, you actually know how to speak English.’”
While overall hate crimes dropped seven percent in 2020, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 149%, according to a study by The Center for Study of Hate and Extremism. Terms like “Kung Flu” and “The China Virus” have contributed to many placing a blame on the Asian community for the coronavirus.
Reports of Asian Americans being spat on, called racial slurs, physically assaulted and tragically killed have filled headlines across the country over the last year.
Xiong, who is the eldest daughter in her family, said she feels unsafe because the majority of attacks are against Asian women but being away from home has her “more terrified for her parents.” She said that being away from home has been uniquely difficult.
“It’s scary to know that [a racist attack] could happen to me,” Xiong said. “But we have all seen the news, and it’s more targeted at older Asian grandmas and grandpas.”
Michael Lor, secretary of OSU’s Asian-American Student Association, said while he is worried for the Asian community, the statement by Hargis helped him feel safe.
“President Hargis has definitely taken the initiative to make sure that the Asian population here is well accepted and safe, so we are very grateful for that,” Lor said.
Hargis also provided resources for any Asian student, faculty or staff member who feels unsafe, including ways to report incidents of racism, organizations for Asian students and mental health resources. He used strong language throughout, explaining, “hate and intolerance toward any individual has no place on the Oklahoma State campus.”
The Asian American Student Association works to provide an inclusive space for Asian students to celebrate their culture, as well as share it with the rest of the OSU community. Lor said it’s upsetting to see the United States experiencing this current wave of intolerance but hopes this might be an opportunity for communities to come together and learn.
“We are kind of declining in our ways of thinking,” Lor said. “America is a melting pot. That’s what we are known as … We aren’t holding our reputation where it should be, and we aren’t being a good role model.”