After a group of young men attacked a Chinese University of Wisconsin doctoral student Tuesday, June 14, UW students renewed calls for action from administrators.
Once the victim made a statement titled “Tonight it’s me,” student groups began posting about the incident. Images swirled on social media of the victim post-attack, his face blurred but clearly bloody.
The victim said he was walking home from the gym on University Avenue when a group approached him and one member physically assaulted him. In the statement, originally posted on Weibo, the victim — who identified himself as a 26-year-old international Ph.D. student — said attackers then pulled him to the ground, punched and kicked him.
According to the Madison Police Department report, this was the third such attack from the group in two weeks. The police believe the suspects were involved in other attacks on non-Asian people unaffiliated with UW.
In his Weibo statement, which has been translated to English, the victim stated he is not sure whether the assault was racially motivated but noted none of the perpetrators were Asian.
This incident is just the latest in a string of attacks against Asian UW students since the start of the pandemic.
Last fall, a student of Asian descent was walking home from the Nicholas Recreation Center when a 34-year-old man grabbed the student’s phone and smashed it on the ground. The man also verbally assaulted the student, calling him a racial slur.
This January, a man at a Badger game in Evanston, Illinois, taunted fans of Asian descent by using his middle fingers to pull his eyes back, making the racist slant-eye gesture.
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Student groups such as ASM and the BIPOC Coalition expressed their disagreement with MPD over the motivations behind the attacks. In a tweet posted June 17, the UW BIPOC Coalition stated: “We will not stand idly by while Asian members of our community are made to feel unsafe. We see you, we are here with you. #StopAsianHate.”
That same day, ASM released a statement condemning the “race-based hate crime,” and called on UW to take “severe but proportionate disciplinary actions” against the perpetrators if the investigation finds they were in fact students, which recent evidence proves they were not.
The university initially sent an email to students responding to the incident from UWPD Chief of Police Kristen Roman, Chief Diversity Officer for the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement LaVar J. Charleston and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor stating the two other victims attacked within the two-week timespan were of various backgrounds and that UW is deeply concerned by that week’s reports and the impact the attacks had on members of the community.
ASM Nominations Board Chair, Steven Shi, spoke with The Badger Herald on behalf of himself only, said he is “deeply disturbed and disgusted,” by the original email UW sent to students and that “all [the] victims are Asian and [UW] failed to recognize that.”
Shi said he heard about the incident originally from a constituent as he is not particularly present on social media. He said he finds it hard to believe the incidents of those two weeks were not racially motivated, as each one occurred within blocks of each other and only to people of Asian descent.
“Racially motivated, ethnically motivated and religiously motivated incidents are not a rare thing on campus. It happens all the time,” Shi said.
Shi said he respects that MPD has to conduct an independent investigation and understands the lack of details because the case was still active at the time.
But Shi said he is disheartened frequently by the university’s dismissal of Asian students’ voices. He believes many of the university’s actions regarding equity and inclusion for its Asian students are performative. He pointed to the fact UW does not recognize many of the holidays celebrated by APIDA communities, like the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival, a widely celebrated festival in East Asia associated with family reunions.
Shi said he believes there is a link between the ignorance that ignites racially motivated violence against Asian students and the university’s lack of recognition and dignification of Asian cultures may play a part in the perpetuation of that ignorance.
Shi said though he acknowledges the university’s effort and appreciates it, it is not enough.
“I want to point out that a lot of administrators get paid good money working here, and I think their salary and efforts should be proportionate,” Shi said. “It’s time for them to take real actions and stop pondering if these incidents are about race and ethnicity or not … otherwise all the things they do are futile [and] just for show. And that is deeply disturbing.”
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About a week after the attacks, police arrested the four individuals suspected of committing the crime against the doctoral student. The suspects are 15, 17, 18 and 20 years old.
Because these were not UW students and one of the suspects is a minor, Shi stated he is not in favor of charging them with hate crimes.
“Instead the prosecutors should consider mandatory education regarding APIDA history and community services. Love and knowledge are the best weapons against hatred,” Shi said.
In light of the attacks, ASM held an emergency meeting June 20 to discuss the situation and pass legislation condemning the university’s initial response.
One of the main talking points during the meeting regarded International Student Services program director Samantha McCabe’s comments to Channel 3000 in an interview.
The controversy sparked after McCabe said she understands how hard it is for students to share their stories and organize protests that are “not always culturally appropriate in their home countries.”
Multiple international students of Asian descent attended the ASM meeting that Monday, voicing their grievances over McCabe’s comment and its implications. Shi also denounced the director’s comments.
“It is just … to put it mildly, ignorant,” Shi said. “I understand it might not have been the intention of the director to say that. It was certainly perceived that way … And the damage emotionally done to students in the protest is irreparable … and I think it is important for her to send out an apology.”
One student, Yuan Li, said she found the comment “disturbing and confusing,” and that McCabe patronized Chinese international students by suggesting she was proud international Chinese students were adhering to American norms. Such a statement, according to Li and Shi, reinvigorates stereotypes about East Asian countries and their citizens.
Another international student, Lianxin Zhang, stated her support for a public apology from the ISS director as well.
“Asian culture encourages us to be polite and friendly, but it never suggests that individuals should not speak for themselves or seek justice,” Zhang said. “Each individual in the university should no longer hold the assumption that protests are culturally inappropriate or that we cannot stand up for ourselves.”
According to Shi, McCabe has apologized privately but not publicly regarding her comments.
While there were conflicts among members of ASM throughout the meeting, the group ultimately passed legislation condemning the attacks, calling for action from UW leaders regarding the email, McCabe’s comments and the administration’s handling and overall response to the attacks.
In a second email from UW to students June 21, Interim Chancellor John Karl Scholz sent a letter acknowledging the adverse effect the university’s “efforts to respond quickly” had on students, particularly those of Asian descent.
“We know more needs to be done to end this violence and allow people opportunities to heal,” the email said.
According to the statement, UHS would offer support for Asian and APIDA students, one June 20 and the other June 21. The email statement asked students to “please know we will continue to work … to have a safe, inclusive and supportive environment for all on campus and the broader community.”
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Whether the three attacks of late were hate crimes or happened to not be racially motivated, many students still want to see more from the university when it comes to equitable representation and actions that follow through on previous statements.