Community brainstorms ways to combat pandemic-related racism

Students and faculty gathered to discuss ways to address racism sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic in a Zoom call March 27.

The forum was hosted by the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE). The meeting link was shared on the CIE’s Instagram page.

Attendees discussed ways to be an ally to victims of microaggressions and communicate with people who are impacted by fear-induced racism. They also proposed creating an Instagram page where ideas could be shared.

More than 25 people tuned in to the meeting, each of whom attended for a different reason.

Senior Rose Therese Piz said she is from Wuhan province in China, where the COVID-19 strain originated. She said it was “frustrating” when people glared at her if she coughed.

“I still think people really don’t understand how it works and they don’t understand who can get it,” she said.

Student Julian Sousa said, “Just because you are from Wuhan province in China, that doesn’t mean you have it. [COVID-19] That doesn’t mean we need to be afraid of you.”

Senior Matt Devlin said he wanted to brainstorm ways to help. “Anybody can help other people inform themselves,” he said.

Devlin said he wanted to fight the spread of misinformation, such as labeling COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.”

Lorretta Holloway, vice president of enrollment and student development, said she participated because her Asian-Italian friends were facing a lot of discrimination.

She told a story of a friend who messaged her and said, “I’ve lived here [in Italy] my whole life and people are yelling at me on the street.”

Holloway said she wanted to share the importance of being an ally with the community.

She did not know how to help from across the ocean. However, Holloway said, “Just showing up sometimes is being an ally.” She said it is important to acknowledge the discrimination, and reassure victims that they are not the only people witnessing microagressions.

Many of the participants said they sympathize with Asians who are currently experiencing microaggressions. Nnenna Uneke, program and events coordinator at the CIE, said she wanted to “be part of the listening ear,” and hear how people from Asian communities feel.

Uneke said she heard complaints from the Asian community about this sort of racism, and compared it to similar forms of racism that occurred during the Ebola crisis.

Sophomore Mia Ihegie said this form of racism reminded her of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which gave an excuse for people to be racist toward Muslims. “This gives people the same opportunity to be racist toward Asians, just because it [COVID-19] came from an Asian country,” she said.

Ihegie said in the same way she would stick up for people in the black community, and expect people outside that community to also do the same, “We should put ourselves in their shoes and stick up for them [Asians] the same way we would want someone to stick up for us.”

Piz said FSU does not have a strong Asian community.

Psychology professor Phoebe Lin said Asian and Asian-American students are underrepresented. “In times like this, it’s especially difficult to find other people who can relate to what you’re going through.”

Lin provided her email in the Zoom chat for students to reach out if they need social support.

Art professor Yumi Huntington Park said she joined the discussion to support students. She emphasized that faculty “are here to help you and hear your comments.”

Huntington Park said she is afraid to go to grocery stores without her husband, citing examples of violent attacks on Asian people in public spaces during the pandemic.

“We are already dealing with a fear of COVID-19,” she said, “But at the same time, I have a fear of being in public places as an Asian woman.”

Student Haley Donahue said she works at a grocery store and has seen more microaggressions toward Asian people. “I’m a firm believer that if you’re not actively fighting against racism, you are complicit in it.

“I’m here to be a better ally, to figure out how I can aid the Asian community the best I can,” she said.

At the end of the forum, Director of Inclusive Excellence Initiatives Patty Birch reviewed the solutions the Zoom chat brainstormed. These included calling out racism, comforting those who have been discriminated against, and speaking up when microaggressions happen.

She also said Uneke plans to create an Instagram page where the conversation could continue and people can share more ideas.

Holloway said, “I think it was helpful to acknowledge that there is another excuse for racism going around.

“During ugly times, people get ugly,” Holloway said. “The ugly that they were before just comes out more.

“We have to really be mindful of that.”

Connie Cabello, vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, said in an email, “I was impressed with the turnout (Friday of Spring Break!) and the level of engagement. There were some new faces that I had not seen before at CIE events, so it was refreshing to see folks want to engage in this important topic.

“I appreciated hearing from students and members of our Asian and Asian American community. I only wish we had more time to unpack their experiences and allyship strategies.”

She added, “Virtual meetings are a challenge but I think our moderators did a great job at managing the space and allowing multiple voices to be heard.

“I personally prefer in-person experiences because it’s easier to read body language and scan the room. However, I’m glad we were able to modify it for the current circumstances.”

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