Saturday, September 24, 2005

Professor Stillman Letter to Michigan Daily

Hi C.C.,

I'm very grateful that the Michigan Daily is covering this situation.

The entire history of Asian people in the U.S. is one filled with violent racism and racist-inspired legislative exclusion. And in many anti-Asian episodes, criminal behavior often went only lightly punished, if at all.
Any reading of any Asian American history textbook will turn up numerous incidents throughout the entire country in which Asians have been at the receiving end of unprovoked violence. (Examples of history texts are "Asian American Dreams" by Helen Zia and "Asian Americans" by Sucheng Chan.) Shockingly, the legal system was used for many decades against Asian people who, for example, were barred from testifying in court cases in the late 19th century, or, in the case of Japanese-Americans during World War II (many of them American-born), ordered to leave the west coast states and incarcerated in internment camps in the name of "national security."

Although extreme violence affects only a minority of the APA population, it is common knowledge that a clear majority of people of Asian heritage in the United States today experience subtle bias and discrimination, even with some regularity! What makes it insidious is its very subtlety. Indeed, the ability of many Asians to shrug their shoulders and say they're not surprised when something like last week's incident happens, is clear demonstration that the present state of affairs is accepted by many as "that's the way things are," so to speak. This acquiescence is one factor that contributes to underreporting. Another factor is that when people step forward and report incidents of bias, often the reports are treated dismissively, which only discourages any further action when bias is encountered.

It is important to educate both the university community and the university administration that bias is far more pervasive than existing statistics would indicate. This is significant, because the pervasiveness of the bias makes the campus an unwelcoming environment for Asian and Asian American students, faculty, and staff. As conversations percolate throughout the university community, stories of experiencing racially-motivated bias are coming out. Steps are being taken to collect these stories as counterevidence to existing--and underreported--statistics.

The APA community at Michigan is coming to consciousness, and the presence of faculty and courses on Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies has strengthened an already activist APIA student community. It must be noted, too, that the presence of nine faculty in APIA Studies is a direct result of student pressure for ethnic studies courses. Yet although there have been efforts in past years to educate administrators on APIA community needs, it is widely perceived that these efforts have been met repeatedly by administrative indifference.

How did I feel when I read about the incidence? Outrage. How is it that any human being thinks he or she is allowed to act with incivility toward another human being? How is it that people who do bad things to other people think they can get away with it?

What moved me to action? Specifically the story in last week Wednesday's Michigan Daily. It was bad enough that the incident was described in graphic detail. But when I read the two students' reactions--"it was not surprising" that something like that could happen--I literally screamed No!
This is completely unacceptible. What kind of climate is there on campus that allows students of Asian heritage to be horrified but not surprised at this kind of incident? The University of Michigan, which prides itself on valuing diversity, has failed its APA students. Enough is enough.

Feel free to call me if you have any further questions.
Aloha,
Amy K. Stillman
Associate Professor of American Culture, and Director, Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies

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