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Affinity space held in light of escalating anti-Asian discrimination

Clara Martinez
East Asian students and faculty discuss recent hate crimes and personal experiences with anti-Asian discrimination March 30. For the first time, the East Asia Culture Club held an in-person affinity space for East Asian members of the ASL community.

According to the Center for the Study and Hate of Extremism at California State University, anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S.’ largest cities increased by 149% in 2020, despite general hate crime reports decreasing by 6%. 

Following instances of discrimination around the world and its ties to COVID-19, members of the East Asia Culture Club hosted their first affinity space meeting for students and faculty who identify as East Asian. Eight High School students and faculty discussed recent hate crimes in the U.S. and U.K. March 30 as well as personal experiences with anti-Asian verbal abuse and discrimination.

EACC member Amber Auh (’21) helped organize the affinity space and said it became more necessary to organize a meeting after the spike in recent hate crimes.

“It’s important to have a club like this because when stuff like that happens, we can have that space to talk,” she said. “It’s really important to have that representation.”

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Grade 11 Dean Rodney Yeoh said he attended the discussion in the hope of creating a support system for students.

“When I was a student at that age, I wish I had a group like this,” he said. “I wanted to show them that there are adults in this building who identify as being a Malaysian Chinese who can offer support for them.”

Unlike other club meetings that must take place online, Principal Devan Ganeshananthan said the affinity space was allowed to be held in person because it is categorized differently from an extracurricular activity.

“One, it’s considered an extension of the affinity work that faculty are engaged in in the day normally, so it’s not really in the same space as an extracurricular,” he said. “The second reason is that they are meeting outside.”

Besides the technical aspects of permitting an in-person meeting, Ganeshananthan said the exploration of emotions within the affinity space is best done face-to-face.

“While I think the students who are interested in doing this needed it so much that they would have done it on the computer, I think it’s just a much more human way to do it, just in person,” he said. “Especially when it comes down to building trust and emotional resilience, there’s nothing like being able to see someone’s face.”

People who look Asian cannot control where the virus came from and how the virus spreads. I guess it’s human nature to try and blame someone other than themselves when they feel so out of control.

— Ellie Lowe ('22)

March 25, Ganeshananthan issued a statement to the High School regarding a shooting in Atlanta March 16 and its ties to anti-Asian racism.

“Although I didn’t state it explicitly, the implicit communication is the fact that this affects everyone, even if you’re not directly affected,” he said.

Yeoh said changing the rhetoric in discussions about the virus will diminish racist comments targeted toward East Asians.

“With the former President Trump’s rhetoric — or calling it the ‘Chinese virus’ — I think that has a massive impact,” he said. “That’s why Mr. Ganeshananthan’s statement, Mrs. Appleby’s statement, all of that is important in having a conversation about this.”

According to the California State University statistic exposing increased hate crimes towards East Asians in 2020, the emergence of COVID-19 is viewed as a factor.

Auh said if the first case of the virus was discovered in the U.S. or Europe, East Asian people would not be the main target of blame.

“The fact that it did happen in an Asian country, a country as big as China, I think that really affects everything,” she said. 

Ellie Lowe (’22) said she believes the escalating discrimination is partly due to blame being placed on East Asians for COVID-19 originating in China.

“People who look Asian cannot control where the virus came from and how the virus spreads,” she said. “I guess it’s human nature to try and blame someone other than themselves when they feel so out of control.”

Auh said she suffered one instance of racial discrimination during lockdown when she was walking through the woods.

“I’d gone past a fat old white dude and he yelled ‘c****’ at me,” she said. “It’s overlooked and it’s like, normalized. I’ve also, I guess, at the same time internalized that and kind of blocked out the real broad notions of it.”

Auh said the commonality of anti-Asian hate crimes has caused her to change the way she responds to new cases of discrimination.

“I’ve been desensitized to it in a way because Asian-American discrimination has always been kind of overlooked,” she said. “If I look back at my childhood, I’m like, there’s so many microaggressions, but I wasn’t even offended.”

Lowe said these instances of discrimination need to be recognized and prevented by everyone, not just East Asian members of the community.

“Anyone should be able to see that hate crimes against Asian-Americans are on the rise,” she said. “You have to help people who are facing that situation because it’s one kind of hurt to have racial abuse, and it’s another kind of hurt to not have any sort of help for white silence.”

This story was originally published on The Standard on April 2, 2021.