Tuesday, May 18, 2021

'We will no longer be the silent minority': Community town hall demands action from MSU

March 26, 2021
<p>A screenshot from the March 25 townhall regarding violence and discrimination towards Asians and Asian Americans.  </p>

A screenshot from the March 25 townhall regarding violence and discrimination towards Asians and Asian Americans.

Following recent acts of anti-Asian violence, the Michigan State University Asian Pacific American Student Organization (APASO), the Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi American/Asian Faculty and Staff Association (APIDA/AFSA) and the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions (OCAT) hosted a community town hall, demanding action from the university to support its APIDA student population.

Speaking on behalf of APIDA/AFSA, MSU Neuroscience Undergraduate Advisor Becky La said since the start of the pandemic, the APIDA and Asian community has continually sat with a lot of grief and anger. This stems not only from the lives lost to COVID-19, but the persistent racist, xenophobic and discriminatory acts and violence towards the Black, Indigenous, Latinx, queer, transgender and undocumented communities.

On March 16, eight individuals — Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng — including six Asian American women, lost their lives in Atlanta. This, as well as other reported incidents of violence towards the APIDA community, are not isolated and unfortunately, nothing new, La said.

Among the demands placed on the university, the groups called for the removal of MSU alumnus Larry Gaynor’s name from the Eli Broad College of Business Gaynor Entrepreneurship Lab. In 2017, Gaynor and his wife donated $3 million to the Business Pavillion, creating the lab on the ground floor. In May 2020, Gaynor publicly made several racist remarks, directly discriminating the Vietnamese community and business owners, mocking their accents and demanding they “talk English." The groups called on MSU to issue an official statement condemning Gaynor’s actions and to create donor accountability practices for future donors so that the university can properly distance itself from those who do not align with university values.

When APIDA individuals met with Broad College of Business Dean Sanjay Gupta, they said he was unaware of the existence of the “bamboo ceiling” which refers to professional barriers barring Asian Americans from leadership positions on the basis of stereotypes and racism. Further, during a summer meeting, APIDA students, faculty and staff were told MSU would not remove Gaynor’s name from the lab because the money had already been donated and it would take extra funds to do so.

To even get that meeting, APASO President and Associated Students of Michigan State University Representative Chloe Majzel said it took several weeks and multiple emails. During that meeting, she said the dean and other Broad College staff members were not responsive to what was asked and that they did not understand that as students, they have been marginalized in the business world.

“We understand donor accountability is difficult because of the first amendment, however, the safety of APIDA individuals at MSU should not be a plea deal or a bargain between finances and the safety of our community,” MSU Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) newly elected President Alisha Phan said.

Though Gaynor personally responded with an apology to MSU VSA, Phan said his words were insincere, ill-written and held insignificant meaning into relieving the pain inflicted upon the APIDA community as a whole.

“We demand these needs are met to maintain the true integrity of everything that MSU stands for — diversity, inclusion and equity,” Phan said. “For those who attend Michigan State, we know that hate has no home here and we demand Michigan State to stand by the Asian American community in this especially troubling time through not only their words but through their actions.”

A recent email sent by Broad College highlights discussions that had taken place between the college and university partners to understand and address the issues impacting the Asian American community. In that, they announced a co-sponsorship of the APA Heritage Month Celebration with keynote speaker, Charles Yu.

Majzel said when APA Studies Director Naoko Wake originally submitted the idea for Yu to speak during the APA Heritage Month, the college had no interest in sponsoring the program. They had to send multiple emails signed by faculty and staff to get their sponsorship, of which they ended up paying $1,000 of the $7,000 total cost.

“They did not want to sponsor the event and now, after this terrible, terrible scene and all this anti-Asian hate, now they are finally advertising and being proud to sponsor this type of event,” Majzel said. “It’s so sad that it takes something bad to happen for them to recognize the APA community and APIDA students in publicized events.”

Further demands call on more proactive safety and well-being measures for marginalized students living on campus, an active work to create an environment that allows marginalized students to feel comfortable reporting offenses against the anti-discrimination policy by being more intentional in combating hate incidents and APIDA programming through the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiative.

With this, they asked the university to publicize information related to the anti-discrimination policy to make it easier to understand in terms of process, consequences for violations, as well as it is rights and other conflicts. They should also make available resources to connect students to higher levels of local and state law enforcement to report incidences of hate crime or ethnic intimidation when needed.

For university and college-wide APIDA initiatives, the groups demand proactivity in acknowledging the marginalization of APIDA students and to create or increase APIDA student success initiative programming.

The final demand included a request for more funding to the Asian Pacific American (APA) Studies Program and further support for all ethnic programs. Ethnic studies courses should be included in the mandatory national diversity and intercultural diversity course requirements, stating ethnic studies should count for the mandatory Integrative Studies in Social Science and Integrative Studies in Arts and Humanities courses.

Multiple MSU administration members spoke during the meeting including, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jabbar Bennett, Senior Vice President for Residential and Hospitality Services and Auxiliary Enterprises Vennie Gore and Associate Provost for Graduate Education and Graduate School Dean Thomas Jeitschko. Bennet emphasized that the administration is ready to take action and said these recommendations would go a long way to start that process.

Filipino American Student Association President Cassidy Hanes said for people who can do something, they ask for accountability, support, education and doing way more than the bare minimum.

“We continue to be this kind of invisible minority and no more, we will no longer be the silent minority and we will no longer take no for an answer,” APIDA MSU Alumna Brady Velazquez said.

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