Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Cornell students, faculty and organizations stand in solidarity with the AAPI community, calling for institutional changes.

April 4, 2021

Professors and Students Demand Institutional Change Against Anti-Asian Racism

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The recent mass shooting in Atlanta, where six of the eight victims were Asian women, sparked national outcry and protests against increased violence toward Asian Americans. At Cornell, professors and students are joining the national conversation, demanding institutional change from the University regarding anti-Asian racism. 

Specifically, members of the Cornell community brought up the need for more mental health resources, more robust diversity awareness training and increased funding for Asian American-based programs.  

The Cornell Asian Pacific Student Union is advocating for administration and faculty members to undergo a more rigorous mental health and diversity awareness training every semester to prepare them for how to respond to current events that negatively impact certain Cornell communities, the organization wrote in an email to The Sun. 

“To wait until the APID/A community or the Black community or the Indigenous community are further victimized before taking action suppresses our already marginalized voices,” CAPSU wrote. 

Other campus organizations are taking action to support the Asian American community through fundraising and organizing events. 

Angelica Majorczyk ’22 and Saumya Sharma ’22, the diversity and inclusion chairs for Phi Gamma Nu and Phi Chi Theta respectively, spearheaded a fundraiser with a coalition of Cornell organizations, including Phi Delta Theta, Diversity on the Street and the ILR Women’s Caucus, for GoFundMe’s AAPI Community Fund. The group currently has raised over $2,000 that GoFundMe will distribute to trusted AAPI organizations to increase community safety and support those affected by violence. 

“We thought we should do something actionable that would help the victims of violence,” Majorczyk said. “I thought it makes more sense to team up with a lot of organizations on campus and use people’s [extensive] networks.” 

Recounting their experience struggling to navigate resources for diversity and inclusion training, Majorczyk and Sharma urged Cornell to provide a centralized resource bank and require diversity and inclusion training for student organizations. 

“This type of training doesn’t come from the University, it’s a club initiative and each club has to take it on by themselves,” Sharma said. “Some clubs don’t have D&I chairs, some clubs don’t even know where to begin.” 

Asian American faculty members at Cornell expressed similar concerns to students and reflected on belonging in the workplace. 

The University’s 2016 Academic Work Life Survey reported Asian faculty members to be the least satisfied with their position compared to their white, Black, Latino and Indigenous counterparts. Asian faculty reported feeling less supported in accessing research space, library resources and research start-up funds and less satisfied regarding salary than white faculty members. 

According to Prof. Julia Chang, romance studies, the office of Faculty Development and Diversity also reported that female Asian faculty worked longer hours and did more domestic work at home than any other faculty group on campus. 

“The University has had this data since 2016 and as far as I know, the only major effort to address this was a semi-regular luncheon for Asian women faculty,” Chang said. “They gave us all this information, which was kind of devastating, but also just confirms what a lot of us have been feeling.”

Chang noticed that unlike other BIPOC faculty, Asian faculty members are excluded from faculty diversity events and listservs that provide useful resources and workshops to facilitate discussion between faculty and their department chairs regarding identity and underrepresentation.

Chang said she respects the need for events targeted toward underrepresented minority groups, but believes there can be additional conversations and events for all faculty of color. 

“It just furthers that erasure, because it’s not like they’re having separate diversity events for Asian faculty,” Chang said. “We’re just completely excluded.”

Prof. Christine Bacareza Balance, performing and media arts and Asian American studies, called attention to the lack of culturally sensitive mental health services and therapists of color at Cornell for BIPOC students. After national coverage of racial violence, the lack of infrastructure to support associated communities was particularly visible.  

Prof. Zhiting Tian, mechanical and aerospace engineering, expressed concerns regarding a lack of institutional support, particularly for Asian students after the series of anti-Asian violence over the pandemic.

“This is not a one person job. This has to come from the institutional level,” Tian said. “I think if students feel insecure and unsupported, then we simply need more systematic support for them, not just saying we are supporting them, but I hope to see more action.”

Discussing what actions people and universities could take in regards to anti-Asian racism, one of the cofounders of Stop AAPI Hate, Prof. Russell Jeung, Asian American studies, San Francisco State University, spoke at a lecture titled “Stopping Anti-Asian Hate During COVID-19 and Beyond” with the Asian and Asian American Center on March 31. 

Jeung stressed how University actions such as increasing funding for the Asian American Studies program and the Asian and Asian American Center are tangible ways to stand against anti-Asian racism, especially given that ethnic and identity-based programs at Cornell have long struggled with budget cuts, faculty shortage and lack of administrative support. 

“I think change needs to happen in terms of curriculum and I think what we might also be seeing right in this moment is the lack of faculty who can speak on Asian American issues across departments,” Balance said. “Therefore, what happens is, the onus for speaking on these issues gets placed upon us.” 

Nancy Martinsen, associate dean of students and director of the Asian and Asian American Center, has hosted several processing spaces since the start of the pandemic because of the increased hate crimes toward the Asian population.  

“I wish everyone would hold themselves accountable so that a month from now, 6 months from now, years from now, they can still be passionate about supporting the Asian community,” Martinsen said. 

Borrowing a quote from Grace Lee Boggs, a prominent Asian American activist, Balance hopes the Asian American community can combine activism with philosophy and move forward with visionary organizing. 

“We have to see every crisis as both a danger and an opportunity. It’s a danger because it does so much damage to our lives, to our institutions, to all that we have expected,” Boggs said in a speech. “But it’s also an opportunity for us to become creative; to become the new kind of people that are needed at such a huge period of transition.”