Section: Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor: KAI demands support from College

Dear members of the Kenyon community,

We are Kenyon Asian Identities (KAI). Some of you may know us through the various events we have taken part in and helped to host — such as the Lunar New Year Celebration —  or some of you may not know us at all. Regardless, we ask that you, the Kenyon community at large, take measures to ensure the safety of its Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) members amid the pandemic.

Over the past seven to eight months, Asians have faced and endured assault, harassment and violence globally due to the China-centered rhetoric surrounding COVID-19. Several of our members have been physically abused, verbally harassed and emotionally traumatized by the countless racially motivated actions targeted at us in our hometowns since the beginning of the pandemic. Some of us have even faced instances of othering and discrimination in Gambier. We are told on a daily basis that we are disgusting, dirty, diseased, bat eaters and that we should “go back to where we came from.” These instances have led us to feel more than just offended. As stated in a Deadline article, Jiayang Fang, a staff writer for the New Yorker, summed it up perfectly in her tweet from March. “I wasn’t offended. I was afraid,” she wrote.

Insults such as “Kung Flu” or the “Chinese virus,” encourage physical abuse and normalize the discrimination of an entire race of people. One cannot act like Asian hate crimes related to COVID-19 do not exist, because one can see it whenever they turn on the news. We are taking such pains to make these experiences known because, to us, Kenyon has acted like they do not exist, and that they are not an active threat in our community. As of Aug. 28, 2020, Kenyon has not released a statement of support for our AAPI and international students, condemned these crimes or even acknowledged their existence and the indubitable impact on Asian/Pacific Islander students. 

Considering the lack of administrative response to COVID-19 violence against Asians, it becomes the burden of Asian faculty and staff members to check in on us. However, it is emotionally taxing for the Asian faculty members to provide support to all the Asian students. There needs to be preventative mechanisms to keep AAPI students safe. Since there are none, we now appeal to the Kenyon community as a whole: students, faculty, staff, residents of Gambier and those in the surrounding Knox County area who have connections to our campus. More than just a statement of solidarity, we have tangible actions that must be adopted to ensure our well-being.

What we would like to see from you (members of the community):

Your words: While this may seem obvious, please don’t make any comments regarding our race and the pandemic, and be careful how you personify the virus. It may be meant as a joke; it may be something you don’t even think about. But calling it the “Chinese Virus” is not funny to us because it triggers memories of having objects flung at us, having our hair pulled and being verbally berated for being Asian—for being so “disgusting.” Do not conflate COVID-19 with Chinese people. In order to prevent our abuse, please withhold these comments.

You have influence over your peers. If you hear someone saying something derogatory, you can let them know that it is wrong, and why. Speak up,— but especially if — they are your friends. 

Your actions: Please don’t target someone you don’t know because of their race. None of us are responsible for this virus, and we are as scared and as frustrated as you by it. Actions that target Asian students include “Othering,” some examples being: upon seeing an Asian student, pulling your shirt over your face, giving us expressions of mistrust and asking us for identification or our “papers.” This may seem ludicrous, but members of our community have been asked for state ID to validate that we are not from China. However, even if the student is from China, international members of our community have every right to be here and should shoulder no blame or suspicion whatsoever.

Wear a mask as an act of solidarity, not just to protect yourself against the virus. Kenyon has made face coverings mandatory in public. We thank them for that. Obviously, it is going to be incredibly hard to enforce this guideline in certain situations, such as students not wearing a mask in someone else’s room. 

For Asian individuals, wearing a mask is a loaded decision. If an Asian student chooses to wear a mask voluntarily, they are most likely assumed to have the virus. We call upon our Kenyon community to wear a mask at all times (even when no one is watching), because Asian students often have to choose between wearing a face covering or being harassed. Wearing a mask is anti-racist and it is an act of camaraderie to protect Asian students.

What we would like to see from the Kenyon administration 

We need specificity.  We need the administration to, firstly, acknowledge that these incidents are occurring, that they indeed are and have already been a risk to our AAPI students and members of the community and that there is no space at Kenyon for this sort of hatred.

We need measures of accountability.  Will there be punitive measures taken?  Investigations opened? Trauma counseling beyond the normal services of the Counseling Center, specifically geared toward addressing racial trauma and dealing with being attacked on the basis of your physical appearance? Will the Office of Diversity, Edquity, and Inclusion (ODEI) take the lead on these actions? How will we hold all offices at Kenyon accountable?  Racialized jokes should not just be dismissed as teasing but need to be met with real consequences. These are the kinds of questions that the administration needs to answer if they are to ensure our safety.

We, most importantly, need communication and transparency. Too often have minoritized students been caught in the crosshairs of miscommunication between different College offices. ODEI does not only serve in the capacity of supporting BIPOC students academically, professionally and emotionally, but is also expected to be the liaison between the various offices at Kenyon such as Reslife, the Office of Student Engagement, and the senior staff. This is a huge burden for an office that does not have that many resources. When ODEI is unable to be that liaison, BIPOC students themselves are expected to uphold this communication. It is not our responsibility to communicate between different offices on matters which are affecting us. We therefore ask, respectfully, that Kenyon’s various offices begin to implement their own diversity advocates. If the College is as dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion as it says it is, we ask that we see palpable action. 

Kenyon community, we are tired. We are tired of being met with silence. This letter is not written only out of frustration, but also out of hope. We are issuing this statement because we believe that our community can do better. Moving forward, KAI urges the Kenyon community to enact change, establish foreseeable consequences for inappropriate behavior and encourage active anti-racism.

With hope for change,

Kenyon Asian Identities

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