After COVID-19 hate and Atlanta-area shootings, Asian Americans seek a louder voice at Dartmouth

  • Dartmouth College professor Yusaku Horiuchi at his home in Hanover, N.H., on Friday, March, 26, 2021. Horiuchi met with administrators at Dartmouth this week about concerns in the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders community. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Eng-Beng Lim (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/27/2021 9:59:21 PM
Modified: 3/27/2021 9:59:18 PM

HANOVER — Asian American community members at Dartmouth College are calling on the school to more forcefully respond to anti-Asian hate and resurfacing efforts to institute an Asian-American studies program following a national increase in reported harassment against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the past year.

Experts say the rise in hate crimes has been spurred in part by racist rhetoric surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the Upper Valley, that has translated to a sense of unease for Asian Americans. This month’s mass shooting in Atlanta — in which eight people were shot to death, including six women of Asian descent — has deepened those fears, many say.

“Among the small group of Asian American postdocs and faculty, everyone is heightened, rattled, exhausted,” said Dartmouth College professor Eng-Beng Lim, who is Asian American and teaches women’s, gender and sexuality studies.

For many Asian American and Pacific Islander faculty, students and alumni at Dartmouth, the national increase in racist incidents also underscores longstanding and painful issues of erasure and underrepresentation, even within their own college community.

“The response I would like to see is a greater community for communities of color,” Lim said. He said that there’s little access or visibility given to Asian Americans on campus, even though AAPI students make up around 15% of the student body. “If the college cannot take the lead on this, how can we expect the greater community to be moved to action?”

Last week, Lim shared a petition calling for the college to create an Asian American Studies program, which would allow students to major or minor in that area of study. The petition, which had 500 signatures by Thursday, asks the college to hire a tenured professor to head the program and to create a $15,000 fund to promote the field.

The college currently has an Asian Studies Department but no program specific to Asian American issues. While the former study focuses on a geographical area, languages and culture, Lim said the latter discipline would focus on ethnic issues in the United States.

In an emailed response to questions, a college spokeswoman did not address why there is no Asian American Studies program. The choice to offer courses, a minor or a major is left up to the faculty, according to the email from spokeswoman Diana Lawrence.

She said the Office of Pluralism and Leadership is co-hosting a “community discussion for AAPI alumni and students” early next month. The office is also working with a student planning committee to host Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, she said.

Reliving trauma

The decision to start the petition came after a year in which reports of anti-Asian hate crimes spiked, largely due to racist sentiments about COVID-19. In a Pew Research study last summer, 58% of Asian adults said it’s more common for people to express racist, anti-Asian sentiments during the pandemic than it was before the pandemic.

Stop AAPI Hate, a website that formed last year to track hate crimes against Asian Americans, reported over 3,000 hate crimes in 2020 alone.

The attacks on Asian Americans came to a head this month, when a man shot eight people to death in three Atlanta-area spas. Six of the victims were of Asian descent, sparking widespread outcry over violence against Asian Americans. Although police have not determined a motive in the shootings, activists and others working against Asian hate have responded with alarm.

Ariel Xue is a 2008 Dartmouth alum and co-chair of the Dartmouth Asian Pacific American Alumni Association. The past year, and the Atlanta shootings especially, have resurfaced memories of racist episodes she’s faced as an Asian American woman.

“We have this racial trauma that we kind of have to suppress all the time,” she said. “With this latest Atlanta incident, I’m seeing this outpouring of people who are recalling incidents in our own lives.”

“At the back of your mind,” Lim said, “you’re thinking what fresh horrors and dangers will be enacted on you and your family.”

Dartmouth professor Yusaku Horiuchi said he’s felt a heightened awareness and fear after this year. It was made worse after a traumatic event in Hanover when his daughter, who is Japanese, and her fiance, who is Korean, were followed and taunted by a man who made a racist gesture at them a month ago.

“He just wanted to show hatred toward east Asians,” Horiuchi said. “My sense of fear is growing, I have to say.”

However, Xue said the national attention focused on Asian American and Pacific Islander communities following the shooting presents a chance to push for more support for members of the AAPI community in institutions like Dartmouth.

“This is how institutions work. It’s been decades of asking for Asian American studies and support and awareness,” she said, pointing to past efforts to establish a program. “It takes a tragedy for people to open their eyes and wake up.”

Systems of support

If created, the program would give a community to AAPI students and faculty, who have long taken on the burden of creating that support system at Dartmouth themselves, Lim said.

He added that many Asian American professors who have left Dartmouth have done so partly because they felt a “severe sense of isolation.” He said many senior Asian American faculty have tried to be a support for younger faculty and students, but that it can be a large undertaking.

“In ordinary times, the environment is already not so conducive for our work or for a sense of community and belonging,” he said.

In addition to providing a much-needed community to AAPI faculty, staff and students, the program could be another chance to teach anti-racism at Dartmouth, Xue said.

“Dartmouth has a moral responsibility to educate students to understand how racism affects everybody,” she said.

Following the police killing of George Floyd last year and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests across the country, Xue said she and some fellow alumni began to think about their own experiences learning about institutionalized racism at Dartmouth.

“We as alums did not feel like Dartmouth educated us enough on these histories and experiences,” she said. “All of this labor is done by faculty and students — the support from Dartmouth was lacking.”

The petition makes a similar statement: An Asian American Studies program could further students’ education in anti-racism.

“As educators, we should exercise a moral and intellectual commitment to an anti-racist and equitable curriculum and pedagogy,” the petition states.

Lawrence said that, over the past year, Dartmouth has “elevated and increased its support for students and employees.” She said the college plans to continue providing resources to members of the Dartmouth community such as 24/7 on-call mental health services and Zoom meetings to help students and staff with periods of anxiety and stress.

She said the college also sponsors an Asian Pacific Islander Caucus (APIC) as part of its employee network.

As many faculty and students push for a new program, others are interested in a more immediate response to the violence from Dartmouth administration.

Following the shootings, President Phil Hanlon put out a statement decrying violence against Asian-Americans, which some faculty members have criticized as too brief.

“We stand in solidarity with the members of the Asian-American community, especially those with whom we are fortunate to live, work and study on our campus, and are extraordinarily proud of the outstanding contributions they bring to Dartmouth,” the statement read. It was published on the college’s homepage and on social media, Lawrence said.

“This is way too short. It’s like a template,” Horiuchi said, adding that the statement was not sent to the greater campus community in an email or Listserv.

“I’m wondering why Dartmouth leaders didn’t send a more honest and supporting letter to everyone,” Horiuchi said. “I want a much more comprehensive, serious message to everyone.”

Lim said he was upset by the brevity of the statement itself and that the institution needs to go beyond a brief message decrying violence.

“What more can the college do beyond rhetoric is what I’m more concerned about,” he said. “I’m even more interested in actual actions that have impact and real effect on the community.”

Horiuchi said he met with administrators at Dartmouth last week to discuss concerns and fears in the AAPI community on campus. He said the main outcome of the meeting was that the administration and faculty agreed to have “continued dialogues.”

Anna Merriman can be reached at or 603-727-3216.

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