On March 16, a white gunman killed eight people in Atlanta, including six Asian women, across three separate Asian-owned businesses. The event sparked a University statement and organizational action, leaving a profoundly negative impact on Cornellians in Asian and Asian American communities.
In the days following the attack, Cornell students reported immense shock, grief and anxiety for their families’ safety. As event details disseminated via prominent news sources and social media outlets, they reacted with shock and concern for their communities.
When receiving the news, Maggie Zhang Grobowski ’22 immediately called her mother, a Chinese woman living in suburban Maryland, telling her to be more careful.
Stephanie Naing ’23 spent the night after scrolling through articles and posts with “all the information buzzing in [her] head.”
Amanda He ’23 remembered feeling numb after reading the headlines.
“For several days, I would read something new about the victims or the attack that would drive me to tears,” He said. She expressed sadness over the family of victim Xiaojie Tan, who celebrated her 50th birthday over Zoom to spare Tan’s mother the news.
To provide support for students, Cornell’s Asian-interest organizations took action — the Cornell Asian Pacific Student Union, Cornell Chinese Students Association, Cornell Filipino Association, Alpha Kappa Delta Phi and Pi Delta Psi released statements mourning the victims from the Atlanta shooting.
The Asian and Asian American Center also hosted “community processing spaces” facilitated by the director and assistant director of the AAAC, Nancy Martinsen and Daniel Hoddinott, on March 18 and 19. Three days later, Pi Delta Psi hosted Jamy Drapeza and Donna C. Poon, Asian American Pacific Islander mental health professionals, for a “community healing space.”
On March 23, Ithaca locals also mourned, by gathering for a vigil in honor of the victims at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons.
In a Facebook post, organizer Susan Lin expressed her desire to show solidarity between the AAPI community in Atlanta and the one in Ithaca, where she grew up.
“It’s important to be visible in our grief, in our struggles, and to ask for humanity and equality,” Lin said. “Our stories are worth telling, and our lives are worth sharing.”
The widespread solidarity in the wake of the Atlanta attack gave Atlanta native Angela Lau ‘22 a sense of unity within the Asian American community and expressed appreciation that the hardships of being an Asian American in the South have been recognized.
“The most shocking thing to me was that it was so close to home and to the people I love,” Lau said. “You always hope that this will never happen to the people that you love.”
Due to the rise of hate crimes towards the Asian population during the pandemic, Risa Sunakawa ‘22 decided to stay home in Utah last semester to protect her parents from potential violent attacks.
“It broke my heart when the day before I left to come back to campus this semester, my mom asked me what to say if someone said something racist to her or my dad,” Sunakawa said. “When my mom sends me pictures of her and my dad out on a walk, I can’t help but wonder if that will be the day something happens.”
Sunakawa believes that the legal system should hold the criminals who commit anti-Asian hate crimes accountable, rather than leaving Asians to avoid future attacks by hiding and assimilating.
“Why do we have to be the ones who are scared?” Sunakawa said. “Why don’t they change their racist behavior? Why aren’t they scared of the consequences of assaulting, attacking and murdering minorities?”
Some students, like Zhang Grobowski, struggle to balance feelings of grief with the need to take action.
“As a mixed-race Chinese American who is often perceived as white passing, my whiteness is sometimes a shield of privilege, erasing my lived cultural experiences yet protecting me from minor or major acts of racial discrimination,” Zhang Grobowski said.
Going forward, students stated that the University should do more for Cornell’s AAPI communities. A student who wished to remain anonymous to avoid potential race-based harm wished that Pollack’s statement established greater concrete action items in response to anti-Asian racism.
“I think that allocating funds for the Asian and Asian American Center would have sent a stronger signal for Asian students that their university cares and is willing to take action to protect their well-being,” they wrote in a statement to the Sun.
Naing emphasized the importance of intersectionality when discussing targeted acts of violence. As racism and sexism were both intertwined with the Atlanta shooting, she called the Cornell community to deconstruct the idea of a monolithic “Asian” identity and acknowledge the myriad social problems contributing to racial violence.
“Even if many people view us as a monolith, I hope that we do not blindly embrace this myth,” Naing said. “I hope we continue to be diligent to different social identities held by different Asian people, whether it be class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality and immigration status.”