In case you are just checking in, I've already posted this initial response about the Virginia Tech story. But right now, I am most concerned that some University of Iowa Asian and Asian American students are afraid to go outside. It's not just Korean students. Here are some of the feelings some of my students have described to me in email messages, notes, and conversations:
*I feel like people are looking at me differently.
*I'm afraid of what people think when they see me.
*I worry about anti-Asian revenge.
*I worry about how people will treat Asians in the future.
*I hope nothing bad happens to Asian students on this campus.
*My friend called me and told me to go back home as soon as possible.
*I worry about the relationship between Korea and the US and the relationships between people.
*I am afraid of opening the door to a classroom.
*I'm scared someone is going to think about the tragedy and blame me.
Some of the above comments came from female students. One student told me about a friend who has not left home or gone to classes. Apparently there are more than a few students who feel that way. A few of my Asian and Asian American students have been brave enough to say stuff like this in public forums, but most haven't.
I brought up the subject of such fears with colleagues throughout the day, and I was alarmed and dismayed by the tendency to minimize and discount the students' feelings. When I told one colleague about the girl who felt afraid to open classroom doors, he rolled his eyes and replied, "I'm heartened to see Asian reporters covering the story and issues besides race addressed in the coverage. That's a sign of progress." WTF? While this may have been the most dissociated and weirdest reaction of the day, it was not inconsistent with many other responses I heard. Leaving aside all the problems with the content of his reply, I want to note that it shifted the discussion away from the feelings of the students to the subjectivity of that professor. It doesn't matter what he thinks or feels or predicts. What matters is the reality that some students are afraid. What he thinks isn't going to make them feel suddenly unafraid or more connected in the community. A response like that can be seen as an admonition to repress: "You have no reason to be afraid, so get over it." (Given the track record of race-based hate crimes after high-profile violent incidents involving people of color, I also think we are wrong to downplay the origins of those fears, but even if you disagree, your disagreement doesn't change the fact that some students are still afraid.)
Does anyone know about plans for meetings or discussions to respond to these fears or efforts to make common cause with our Asian and Asian American students so that they don't feel isolated or, as more than a few described to me today, like people will think they are "liars" for saying they are afraid? Doesn't that say something about our community – that students anticipate having their feelings about this denied or discounted?
I tried to emphasize to my colleagues throughout the day that they should resist any urge to minimize these students' fears. If Iowa City and the UI want to be welcoming to people of color, especially our students, we better figure out a better way to respond to fears like this than saying those fears shouldn't be there. They are there.