Asian Americans at Indiana University Bloomington are in shock after an 18-year-old student was stabbed to death on a city transit bus last Wednesday, allegedly because of her identity. But they don’t feel they have received enough support.
Since the incident, a sense of shock has spread through the school’s Asian community. The suspect, Billie Davis, told the Bloomington Police Department that she targeted the student, who survived the incident, for “being Chinese,” adding that he “would be one less person to blow up our country,” court documents show. . With fears about their safety amplified, Asian-American students who spoke to NBC News said they were disappointed with the response both from those outside the Asian community and from the school administration, who made their first remarks about the attack two days later.
“It’s very exhausting for the Asian community to do all the work,” said senior Audrey Lee. “I think a lot of Asian Americans internalize the feeling that if they speak up, when these situations happen, they will be seen as crazy or overreacting.”
Mara Yankey, Indiana University’s senior media relations consultant, responded in an email that the victim’s privacy request “limits what IU or other local officials can say publicly.”
“But it doesn’t diminish our university’s commitment to supporting them, their families and, of course, our students, faculty and staff,” he wrote.
The student, whose identity has not been released, was allegedly waiting for the bus door to open when a passenger repeatedly struck her in the head before getting out, police said in a statement. While the suspect told police he attacked the victim because of her race, Jeff Kehr, Monroe County’s chief deputy prosecutor, said earlier in an interview that the state does not have a hate crime law that would alter the severity of the crime. of the charges.
Students say conversations about the incident have been active among Asian Americans on campus. But they admit that when they leave their safe spaces, they often feel a sense of loneliness. Zhang, a sophomore and resident adviser for the school’s Asian-American Themed Community, said he’s not sure those outside the Asian community are aware of the violent attack. And it’s this lack of awareness, the students say, that shows the administration could be doing more to promote education and solidarity around Asian-American issues not only among the student body, but also among the surrounding community.
“There really isn’t any advocacy group in the community that makes Asian issues very visible. I think the administration should make that a priority, just expand their own diversity and inclusion efforts into the community, because students can’t do that alone,” Lee said.
On campus, Lee said she has also had several uncomfortable experiences with microaggressions and that non-Asian bystanders rarely speak up or offer support. There have been other cases, both Lee and Zhang said, in which the concerns of the Asian community have been minimized, devalued or completely dismissed by their peers. And without efforts to mitigate racism and promote understanding among the Asian population, many have sensed the looming potential for more serious instances of racism, such as attack.
Karen Cheng, a senior at the university and president of the school’s Asian-American Association, noted a similar sense of fear. As an Asian-American woman, she said, public safety concerns predate the tragedy. The city of Bloomington itself has a small but sizeable Asian population, making up just over 10% of its residents. But the community is also flanked by some areas with white supremacist activity, something many Asian-American students are aware of, Cheng said.
In the 1920s, about 1 in 3 white Protestant men in the state were dues-paying members of the Ku Klux Klan, according to the Washington Post. More than a century later, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked down 15 active hate groups across Indiana.
Race-related violence against Asian students also lives in the city’s not-so-distant past when former IU student Benjamin Smith, a white supremacist who had spread pamphlets about white power on campus and throughout the city, murdered 26-year-old doctoral student Won-Joon Yoon in 1999 outside the United Methodist Church of Korea. Smith, who had previously been wanted in a series of shootings earlier that year that targeted Black, Jewish and Asian people, fatally shot himself that same night.
And many continue to have uncomfortable bouts with racism, some saying it’s a lingering anxiety as they progress through their college years. Cheng recounted an incident at a grocery store in December that left her shaken.
“I shop there all the time, students go there all the time too,” he said. “And this angry white old man almost ran into me and then he said, ‘Excuse me, you nasty Asian.'”
Students say it has been up to Asian Americans themselves, including faculty members of Asian descent, student groups and loved ones to begin the healing process.
“One of my residents asked me… if we could all write letters to the victim even if we don’t know her name,” Zhang said. “We just want to show support, make sure she knows that there are people here who stand up for her.”
They praised the university’s Center for Asian Culture for releasing a statement shortly after the attack and hosting an open discussion night last week, inviting members of the campus community to talk about their emotions and write letters to the victim. And many took it upon themselves to offer rides to those who felt unsafe and monitor the emotional and mental health of their friends.
In many cases, the strength of the Asian community is empowering, said Cheng, whose organization has more than 200 members.
“We are the only ones who really understand,” he said. “We can almost save ourselves, in a way.”
For now, it looks like Asian Americans will continue to do what they do best and find solace in each other.
“There are a lot of people here who are so willing to help, even if they aren’t your best friends,” Zhang said of the Asian-American community. “We all have a mutual understanding of this fear and have all experienced it at some point, or know someone who has.”