Students and community members gathered Thursday evening for a panel discussion focusing on empowering the Asian American youth community after a copy of a racist flier was sent to USC Asian Pacific American Student Services and UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center. The event was co-sponsored by the Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment, and the Asian Pacific American Student Assembly.
The panel was made up of Asian American activists and community organizers including Nat Lowe from Asian Americans Advancing Justice; Tracy Zhao, a graduate of Pomona College and a research associate at UCLA, and Andrew Quan from the organization Liberty in North Korea. The panel shared their experiences and gave advice to students on how to mobilize their community to accomplish change before the event moved into an open discussion on issues of race on campus.
“When I saw the flier, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really horrible,’ but we’re all here talking about these issues,” Lowe said.
The panelists warned against letting emotion influence the response, and said it was important to use this as an opportunity to educate the community about the issues.
“It’s easy to get angry about issues, [but] we can’t think about our policies and actions as reactionary, you have to think about what you want to see, what is your vision for your future and your community. It might not feel like activism but you’re enabling people to keep doing what they’re doing,” Zhao said.
Quan said it was important to use these experiences to motivate people to get engaged in the cause.
“You need to start with the why, the temptation is to just start telling people what to do, but the why is the most important, sharing facts and statistics, or personal stories,” Quan said. “Build on top of the emotional energy with knowledge.”
All the panelists urged students to engage with the issues and not to leave them to students in leadership roles or the administration.
“In a social justice context, when I think about leadership I think about a commitment to social justice,” Lowe said. “The conventional thought about leadership is you have to have certain qualities, communicate in certain ways, but anyone can have [that commitment.,”
The event then shifted toward a discussion on the recent controversy surrounding fliers distributed on UCLA’s campus and sent to USC APASS. Both APASS and APASA issued official responses to the letter, both of which can be found online. Both said they were careful in crafting their response so as not to avoid giving the perpetrator undue publicity.
“This is something that is new to us,” director of APASS Mary Ho said. “It’s not about APASS, it’s what it means to the students — what we chose to do. It was a chance to empower students, and to have them frame what social justice means to them, and have them make history at USC.”
APASA and USC SCAPE coordinated a response that was co-signed by student groups around campusand around the country, including the Asian Pacific American Coalition at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign.
“Let’s retool this as a learning tool, use it to educate and empower,” said Jonathan Wang, assistant director of APASS. “It doesn’t matter who the author was, it was meant to drive us apart.”
The administration, has not made an official statement, but Vice Provost for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry was present to gauge student response.
“We have to [strike] a really important balance here: We don’t want to give the perpetrator any advertising; we don’t want the flyer to receive the attraction of the university promoting it,” Carry said. “We’ve been coordinating a response. We thought the APASS response and the student response was perfect, and we didn’t want to trump that response.”
He said that he and the administration were taking the issue very seriously.
“As a person of color, I imagined all those terminologies being used against me, and the people I care about, and at USC we do not tolerate that language. This is a community that values its diversity — it is our number one asset,” Carry said.
He invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous words: “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“This has an impact on our entire institution,” Carry said. “We are standing together to make sure this is not tolerated on our campus; it is deplorable.”
He further urged students to engage in dialogue across cultural boundaries so as not to have a “siloed” approach to the problem.
“Imagine how our response would be if we were all equally offended by this,” Carry said. “When any part of our community is challenged, we should all feel challenged; this problem is so big we can’t expect one culture to deal with it. Our approach needs to be cross-cultural.”
When asked how students should engage with administrators, Lily Chowana-Bandu, interim director of Campus Activities, urged students to utilize their available resources.
“We all support your cause; we were all appalled,” she said. “This is not a part of your USC or UCLA experience — you should have an opportunity to learn where it’s safe, supportive and fun. If you want to talk to any administrator, they will bring it up the chain. We want to be supportive. You are supported in any avenue.”
Representatives from El Centro Chicano attended the forum and voiced their support for the cause, saying that it was an issue that affected all minority students in the community.
Rayven Vinson, a senior majoring in international relations and Spanish, said the hidden identity of the flier’s author created a sense of mistrust within the student community.
“It creates that fear that you’re in a community where there are members who are targeting a group that you are a part of,” Vinson said. “These are people you see every day.”
Other students said addressing the problem required becoming more accepting as a community.
“We as a society need to become more accepting and open to interacting with different people, like international students,” said Jacky Chen, a sophomore majoring in engineering.