Atlanta shootings draw renewed attention to anti-Asian hate concerns on campus

After eight were killed in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, Asian communities in Canada and the United States are tense — including at UBC.

The incident was harrowing for communities on both sides of the border amid rising anti-Asian sentiment over the past year.

The shooter targeted three Atlanta-area spas and has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. Six out of the eight victims were women of Asian descent.

Riko, a second-year Japanese international student in the faculty of arts, said that she was “heartbroken” when she heard about the shootings.

“I just feel horrible because those are probably the women who suffer the most day to day. They left their country. They’re starting in a new place,” she said.

Closer to home, Asian students on campus have felt the impacts of rising anti-Asian sentiment amid the pandemic.

Last fall, Riko said she was at the UBC bus loop with her friends when an unmasked white man accosted them. She said that he told her and her friends to return to China if they wanted to wear their “commie” face masks. Riko’s last name has been withheld because she was concerned about coming forward about a time she was harassed.

In February, the Vancouver Police Department reported 98 anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020 compared to 12 in 2019, marking a 717 per cent increase.

UBC decried the shooting on social media Wednesday evening. On Friday afternoon, the Equity and Inclusion Office hosted an event where community members reflected on Atlanta and anti-Asian hatred more broadly.

“Yesterday’s tragic shootings in Atlanta have highlighted a concerning rise in anti-Asian racism and violence. UBC condemns and denounces anti-Asian racism — it has no place in our community and we have zero tolerance for it,” the university said in posts.

On March 20, President Santa Ono released his own statement offering support to the community and announcing that the university will hold a two-day event this June about anti-Asian racism. “As an Asian man, the tragedy affected me deeply,” he said.

In a February 24 statement, Ali Mojdehi, acting director of UBC Campus Security, said the unit was aware of four reports of anti-Asian incidents on campus in 2019 compared to six in 2020. The incidents ranged from graffiti to offensive comments.

“While Campus Security has not seen a large increase in the number of anti-Asian racism incidents compared to previous years, all such incidents are completely unacceptable to the university as a whole,” Mojdehi said. “We encourage anyone who believes they have been the victim of a hate crime to contact 911 immediately.”

Riko said that she appreciated UBC’s statement but felt that the university could do more against anti-Asian racism.

“I don’t see any extra effort being put in … I feel like Asians are also the overlooked community.”

She acknowledged that as an international student, her experience was different from what domestic students with heritage from other Asian countries face.

AMS President Cole Evans said the society will be releasing a statement following the Atlanta attack, and he encouraged affected students to get help from AMS Peer Support or the UBC Student Assistance Program. “All of us at the AMS are really troubled by the events in Atlanta.”

Isa Carlin, a graduate student at the UBC School of Information and a member of Filipinx activist group Sulong UBC, said that the Atlanta shootings speak to the intersecting systems and government policies that place Asian female migrant workers in vulnerable positions.

They pointed to SWAN Vancouver, a local charity supporting migrant women sex workers, who recognized in a public statement that the discrimination the victims of the Atlanta shootings faced crossed race, class and gender lines.

And while Carlin said that UBC’s disapproval of anti-Asian racism is important, they said students can effect transformative change through activism.

“I think that when we look to hegemonic institutions like UBC to lead us theoretically to advance our understanding of the world, then we’re always going to be disappointed.”

with files from Maheep Chawla

This article has been updated to include President Ono’s statement.