Northwestern’s Asian American communities look beyond the University for healing


Illustration by Meher Yeda

Weeks after the shootings in Atlanta, Asian American students reported anger and hesitancy to turn to the University for support.

Yunkyo Kim, Campus Editor

Content warning: This story contains mentions of hate crimes.

When news broke of a series of shootings not too far from her family’s new home in Atlanta, Weinberg junior Giboom Park was heartbroken. On top of this, Park said many people she’s interacted with have invalidated her experiences — putting an additional burden on her shoulders.

“I feel extreme disgust at people that keep telling me it was not a hate crime against Asian Americans,” Park said. “The fact that we have the responsibility to tell other people to care about what’s happening to us in itself is ridiculous, but also just so traumatizing.”

Six of the eight victims of the shooting were Asian American women. Daoyou Feng, Suncha Kim, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Xiaojie Tan and Yong Ae Yue were all working when a man opened fire in three Atlanta-area massage businesses. Paul Andre Michels and Delaina Ashley Yaun, patrons at the spa, were also killed.

In the weeks following the March 16 hate crime, Asian American communities across the country have looked inwards to heal from trauma from the events. At Northwestern, students said they are struggling to move forward in a global pandemic during which rates of Asian American hate crimes have sharply increased.

Even though she felt cared for by her friends, Park said she did not feel supported by the University. In a March 19 email to the NU community, Robin Means Coleman, chief diversity officer and vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion, said the University stands in solidarity with Asian American communities and acknowledged an increase in hate crimes.

However, Communication senior Isabella Min said she remains wary when it comes to NU’s responses to national accounts of violence, even though she said she never goes to University-sponsored spaces.

“Just in general, I’m very wary of anything the administration puts out,” Min said. “They would be like the last people I go to.”

Min, who is pursuing a minor in Asian American Studies, said the program’s March statement offering healing spaces temporarily offered a more comforting consolation.

Now, Min said she just feels numb.

Min said she is considering taking virtual self-defense classes now that safety may have become a bigger issue. At the same time, she said she has been conversing with mutuals on social media, which she considers as a part of healing.

“It’s cathartic for me, just having those conversations and having those spaces to talk about (the Atlanta shootings) with people who I never thought I would ever even talk about these things,” Min said.”

For Medill sophomore Ryan Kim, the shootings in Atlanta and a more recent attack in New York “hit close to home” because there are undocumented people in his life, he said. Kim, who grew up in a predominantly Asian neighborhood in New York, said he has strong ties within his Asian American community.

“It’s really sad to me that such tragedies need to occur in the first place for some people to kind of come to the light and realize that anti-Asian sentiment is a real thing (and) is fairly institutional in this nation,” he said.

Kim said he was able to process how he felt through personal and casual conversations with friends, including his suitemates. It helped him grapple with the severity of the tragedy than in a more formal setting, he said.

In addition to having conversations, Kim attended a virtual performance and fundraiser by Refresh Dance Crew, which collected donations for Kan-Win, a Chicago-based organization that serves Asian American survivors of gender-based violence.

Before COVID-19, Ph.D. student Erique Zhang said they felt safe in New York City as an Asian American. But since COVID-19 hit, they have been “on edge” when going to crowded places such as airports, and now carry pepper spray.

“When I first started hearing early on in the pandemic (about) attacks of Asians people, it started getting my guard up,” they said. “The shootings in Atlanta were really a moment that made me be like, ‘This is real.’”

Zhang added that they are not an immigrant nor a woman, but that they are perceived by people as an Asian woman.

Park, who recently published a book on the fetishization of Asian women, said she finds parallels between her research and the shootings in the “worst possible ways,” in that both entailed the hypersexualization and homogeneity of Asian women and Asian culture.

Park said she hasn’t prioritized her own well-being in the aftermath of the hate crimes. She said she went on a television interview with the BBC, during which she was asked what she felt about the characterization that the shooter in Atlanta was “having a bad day.”

“We all deserve breaks and time to heal but I just can’t get myself to sit down,” Park said. “We should prioritize ourselves, but at the same time, I just don’t think I’ll be able to forgive myself if I let this moment just be a moment and not a movement.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @YunkyoMoonK

Related Stories:

Northwestern community members start to receive COVID-19 vaccine

A year into the pandemic, students reflect on how life over Zoom has impacted mental health, social lives

Graffiti, handshakes and the “perpetual foreigner”: Asian Americans at Northwestern report alienation amid COVID-19