After Indiana Univ. Stingy Asian American students say they didn’t get enough support from school

Asian Americans at Indiana University Bloomington are reeling after an 18-year-old student was stabbed to death on a city bus last Wednesday, allegedly over her identity. But they don’t feel they have enough support.

A sense of shock has spread through the school’s Asian community since the incident. Suspect Billie Davis told the Bloomington Police Department that she targeted the student who survived the incident because he was “Chinese,” adding, “It would be one less person blowing up our country.” would,” court documents show. With fears for their safety mounting, Asian-American students who spoke to NBC News said they were disappointed with the response from both those outside the Asian community and school officials, who made their first statements about the attack two days later .

“It’s very tiring for the Asian community to do all the work,” said Audrey Lee, a senior. “I think a lot of Asian Americans internalize the feeling that if they speak up in these kinds of situations, they’ll be seen as crazy or overreacting.”

Mara Yankey, Indiana University’s senior media relations consultant, responded in an email that the victim’s request for privacy “limits what IU or other local officials can say publicly.”

“But it doesn’t take away from our university’s commitment to supporting her, her family and — of course — our students, faculty and staff,” she wrote.

The student, whose identity has not been released, was reportedly waiting for the bus door to open when a fellow passenger hit her repeatedly on the head before exiting, police said in a statement. While the suspect told police she targeted the victim because of her race, Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Kehr previously said in an interview that the state does not have a hate crime statute that would change the severity of the charges .

The students say talk about the incident was active among Asian Americans on campus. But they admit they often feel lonely when they leave their safe spaces. Zhang, a sophomore and resident advisor to the school’s Asian-American thematic community, said he is not confident those outside the Asian community are all aware of the violent attack. And it’s this lack of awareness, the students say, that shows the administration could do more to promote education and solidarity on Asian American issues, not just for the student body but for the surrounding community as well.

IU Center for Asian Culture

“There is no real community advocacy that makes Asian issues very visible. I think the administration should make this more of a priority and just extend their own diversity and inclusion efforts to the community, because the students can’t do this alone,” Lee said.

On campus, Lee said she’s also had several uncomfortable experiences involving microaggression, and rarely does non-Asian viewers speak up or offer support. There have been other instances, both Lee and Zhang said, in which the concerns of the Asian community have been downplayed, devalued or completely ignored by their peers. And without efforts to mitigate racism and promote understanding among Asian people, many have sensed the looming potential for more serious cases of racism like the attack.

Karen Cheng, a senior at the university and president of the school’s Asian American Association, noted a similar sense of anxiety. As an Asian-American woman, she said the tragedy was preceded by public safety concerns. The city of Bloomington itself has a small but sizable Asian population, making up just over 10% of its residents. But the community is also flanked by some areas of white racist activity, which many Asian American students are aware of, Cheng said.

In the 1920s, an estimated 1 in 3 white Protestant men in the state were dues-paying members of the Ku Klux Klan, according to The Washington Post. Over a century later, the Southern Poverty Law Center prosecuted 15 active hate groups across Indiana.

Racial violence against Asian students also lives on in the city’s not-so-distant past, when former IU student Benjamin Smith, a vocal white supremacist who had been spreading white power pamphlets on campus and across the city, killed the 26-year-old Murdered graduate student Won-Joon Yoon in 1999 outside the Korean United Methodist Church. Smith, who was wanted earlier that year in a series of shootings targeting blacks, Jews and Asians, fatally shot himself that same night.

And many continue to have uncomfortable encounters with racism, and some say it’s an ever-present fear as they move through their college years. Cheng recounted an incident at a grocery store in December that shook her.

“I shop there all the time, students go there all the time too,” she said. “And this angry old white man almost pushed me and then he said, ‘Sorry, nasty Asian guy.'”

The students say it was up to Asian Americans themselves, including Asian faculty members, student groups and loved ones, to begin the healing process.

“One of my residents asked me … if we could all write letters to the victim, although we don’t know her name,” Zhang said. “We just want to show our support and make sure she knows there are people out here who are committed to her.”

They commended the university’s Asian Cultural Center for releasing a statement shortly after the attack and organizing a night of open discussion last week, inviting members of the campus community to share their feelings and write letters to the victim. And many took it upon themselves to offer rides to those who felt unsafe and checked on their friends’ emotional and mental health.

In many cases, the strength of the Asian community is empowering, said Cheng, whose organization has more than 200 members.

“We’re the only ones who really understand,” she said. “We can sort of almost save ourselves.”

For now, it appears that the Asian American people will continue to do what they do best and comfort one another.

“There are many people here who are willing to help, even if they aren’t your best friends,” Zhang said of the Asian-American community. “We all have a common understanding of this fear and have all experienced it at some point or know someone who has experienced it.”

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