President Santa Ono promised to fight anti-Asian racism by meeting with a little-known Asian campus group.
But what exactly does it do and how much can it claim to speak for Asian university community members?
Ono’s June 1 anti-racist statement said that he will be meeting with the Asian Canadian Community Engagement group (ACCE). The ACCE is a group of faculty and staff at the university created in 2007 to help Japanese Canadians receive honourary degrees after being unable to complete their programs with Japanese internment in 1942.
ACCE co-chair and history professor Henry Yu, described the ACCE as an “umbrella committee” covering various Asian engagement groups. Anne Murphy, chair of the Punjabi language, literature and Sikh studies department and an ACCE member since 2016, added that the subcommittees were diverse, with some covering community issues and others covering activities.
But two Asian student groups contacted by The Ubyssey were previously unaware of the ACCE’s existence, raising questions of why Ono didn’t choose another student group for consultation.
Ever heard of it?
Little information is available about the ACCE’s current activities on its website, which only provides information about its founding.
The phone number listed on the website belongs to psychology Professor Emeritus Dr. Peter Suedfeld, who said he had no affiliation with the group. When emailed, he said it was the first time he had heard of the ACCE and was unaware that his phone number was listed.
Yu explained that the website was considered “evergreen,” adding that the ACCE has no other platform which highlights its current work.
Yu said that the website was created a long time ago and believes “the person who was the contact changed jobs and someone else was assigned that phone number.”
While the ACCE website is not regularly updated, Yu noted that “student, faculty, and researchers engagement with local Asian Canadian communities is done through ACAM.” ACAM, short for the Asian Canadian and Asian Migration studies program, was created by the Faculty of Arts in 2012. ACAM Director Christopher Lee said in an email that the two have collaborated in the past, but operate separately.
People normally learn about ACCE through word of mouth, Yu added. “Not every single person who does things with the on-campus Asian Canadian community is at ACCE,” said Yu. “If you never hear about it, it means you probably are not running into people who already do things [with the Asian Canadian community].”
Hua Dialogue, a Chinese student group concerned with Chinese issues, said it had not heard of the ACCE until contacted by The Ubyssey.
The Asian Student Association at UBC Okanagan was also unaware of the ACCE until The Ubyssey sent a message asking for comment. When asked how it felt about not being chosen for consultation, it said in a statement it did not have a stance and was “sure Santa Ono has his reasonings behind the decision.”
Hopeful for collaboration
The ACCE is set to meet with Ono in July, Yu and Ono both said.
Ono said in an emailed statement that his office’s decision to consult with the ACCE came from advice from the Equity & Inclusion Office, “a recommendation that I wholeheartedly support.”
“I look forward to meeting with the ACCE committee in July, and will be continuing to consult with committee members to discuss specific steps that UBC can take to address anti-Asian racism and to build a more inclusive community.”
Murphy noted the importance of Ono being committed to working with various groups on campus to address these issues.
“That discussion will focus on a general understanding of ACCE’s role and its advocacy efforts over the past five or so years,” said Murphy. “Then, [it will] address what needs to happen on campus to make there be positive and substantive change and address issues for the sake of everyone at UBC.”
Later on in the President’s statement, Ono mentioned that he will be holding a virtual town hall to hear from students. For Yu, the university going beyond words and taking action is what’s important.
“To me, apologies are nothing. They don’t have substance,” said Yu. “All it is is to pull more noise and act as if you’ve done something.”
The Asian Student Association said UBC’s action against anti-Asian racism will create a positive impact, and it hoped for a future opportunity to collaborate with the university.
“We believe it’s great that Santa Ono is taking initiative and meet[ing] with various groups about combating anti-Asian racism,” reads the statement.
“With that being said, we also wish that someway UBC can actually partner up with Asian culture clubs on campus like us and other amazing clubs out there, to host events, bigger than we ever could, to educate our community on Asian culture.”
This article has been updated to reflect that the ACCE was not involved with the C19 Response Coalition website and that ACAM was created by the Faculty of Arts, not through the ACCE.