By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer, Video by George Schroeder
Students held a demonstration Tuesday evening on Fountain Mall to unite allies and members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. The march took place days after the recent assault of an Asian American student near campus and the continuation of hate crimes against the AAPI community across the United States.
Associate Professor of Philosophical Theology and George W. Baines Chair Dr. Jonathan Tran said the amount of students, faculty, staff, Wacoans and administration (including Baylor President Dr. Linda Livingstone, Provost Nancy Brickhouse and Vice President of Student Life Kevin Jackson) that showed up in solidarity made him feel seen for the first time in his 15 years at Baylor.
Around 150 people attended the demonstration. It began with minority students, faculty and Waco community members speaking about their experiences and ended with a silent march across campus.
According to an analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, anti-Asian hate crime increased 149% in 2020 in 16 of America’s largest cities.
During the demonstration, Tran said there has been a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes partly because of former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about the COVID-19 pandemic, such as calling the coronavirus “kung flu” or the “Chinese virus.”
Tran said the assault of the Asian American Baylor student was “tragic and devastating, but it is not original.”
“It goes through the lifeblood of all the things that are Asian American,” Tran said. “We have the absurd categorization of an extraordinary diverse reality of languages and histories and experiences all rendered into one single narrow category called Asian, and then everything negative associated with one group that gets put on every other.”
Waco sophomore Josie Pooler, another one of the organizers of the demonstrations, said the Asian community has been blamed and made a scapegoat for the pandemic. She said she has been called many slurs and felt oppressed throughout her life, but especially this past year.
“It’s honestly really difficult to talk about,” Pooler said. “I’m not gonna lie, it’s really hard being up here. Having to defend my own humanity, my own personhood, is extremely difficult. Having to assert that I matter, having to assert that my presence matters along with all of yours.”
Pooler said she is afraid to walk around by herself after the assault of the Asian American Baylor student. She said the fear is twice as much because Asian women are hypersexualized, and she has been referred to as a “walking fetish.”
“I find that when you see someone as an object, when you see an entire group of people as inhuman, it becomes so much easier to thus brutalize and attack and even kill them,” Pooler said. “I think Asian racism has been treated really differently than racism against other groups of people. I think it’s been trivialized. It is seen as a joke, it’s humorous.”
The co-owner of Waco Cha Jaja Chen said during the demonstration when she and her husband first set up their boba tea pop-up in 2018 at the farmer’s market in downtown Waco, someone came and yelled, “You aren’t Texan,” and spit out the samples they took.
“Yet, thinking about that encounter now reveals to me the ways that people like that can fuel continued racism, hate crimes and violence towards the AAPI community,” Chen said. “Especially with what the AAPI community has endured this past year, and to continue prejudice, violence and hate crimes of fellow BIPOC and LGBTQ community neighbors have experienced for years and years, even before my time.”
During the demonstration, Sugar Land junior Nicole Ma, one of the organizers, said Baylor has been taking some important steps to create a more welcoming campus for minorities, such as the 40-minute diversity education video, but it cannot stop there.
“No administration, no person or institution is perfect,” Ma said. “There’s definitely a lot of faults, but I do think that together, coming together here today, coming together every single day, having our multicultural affairs or different student organizations can team up with each other. I think that is a wonderful and beautiful thing that we should continue to keep doing, but it also goes to say that we do have to try our best to keep administration accountable for their Christian mission, and also for their diversity and inclusion statements as well.”
Livingstone said she loved seeing so many students, faculty and staff supporting and standing in solidarity with the Asian American community.
“We’ve got to continue to work on these issues,” Livingstone said. “All of our populations of color on this campus need support and encouragement, and we’ve got to continue to work on how to make sure that they feel safe and a part of the community.”
San Diego junior Nichole Zau, president of Alpha Kappa Delta Phi, said she was happy to see the support from the Baylor family and Waco community.
“It’s critical to know that we are being supported on Baylor’s campus not only by administration, but also our fellow peers,” Zau said. “I’m Asian. I see people that look like me on TV every single day getting targeted and getting racially profiled. I need to show my solidarity with my community as well.”
Glen Carbon, Ill., senior Joshua Myung said he was overjoyed by the large turnout.
“I like to see the administration’s support,” Myung said. “It was really surprising because I honestly didn’t think they would come out, or they would just repost a blanket statement, but actually seeing them come out made us feel like we belong on campus.”
Beaumont junior Christine Phan, one of the organizers of the demonstration and the coalition of Asian students intern under the Department of Multicultural Affairs, said during the demonstrations she hopes the support for Asian Americans will continue beyond this demonstration.
“This demonstration is not the last demonstration,” Phan said. “This event is not an end all be all, but it’s something to inspire each and every one of us to continue to work to have these conversations, continue being put in uncomfortable spaces, make others feel uncomfortable and this is why I’m asking for all of us today. We stand in solidarity today, but it’s sad that it had to be in response to an attack that should’ve been prevented, that didn’t have to happen in the first place.”