UCCS faculty discuss anti-Asian hate at Teach-In event

Brianna Beassie 

bbeassie@uccs.edu 

     UCCS educators and faculty came together virtually to discuss a variety of concerns for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, with regard to racial tensions and the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes. The UCCS Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and The Matrix Center hosted the third and final event in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month Teach-In series on April 28 at 3:00 p.m.  

     The event was titled “Solidarities and Fault Lines” and was moderated by Kimbra Smith, associate professor of anthropology at UCCS.  

     The four panelists at this event were all UCCS faculty members, including George Wu Bayuga, instructor of anthropology; ‘Ilaheva Tua’one, assistant professor of women’s and ethnic studies (WEST); Stephen Cho Suh, assistant professor of sociology and WEST; and Suhaan Mehta, assistant professor of English.  

     Throughout the event, questions were posed to the panelists, and each was given the opportunity to respond to the question. People who attended the livestream were also able to drop questions or comments into the livestream chat, which Smith would read aloud for the panelists to respond to. 

     The first question to the panelists was, “How do you understand the AAPI category?” Since each of the panelists have different cultural backgrounds, this question began the conversation with a deep dive into multi-cultural perceptions of the term and its implications.  

     The second question essentially asked the panelists if they had ever struggled with the idea of fitting into a diaspora community. The general consensus between the four was that they had struggled with the idea of fitting into their cultural heritage and American expectations, sometimes considered to be not “American” enough or not Asian or Pacific Islander enough.  

     Panelists expressed that chosen professions, queer identity, community ideals and language inconsistencies were obstacles they had to face to come to terms with who they are and their places in their diasporas. 

     The value of authenticity was another major theme of the event. While the four faculty members each made points regarding authenticity and why people believe it is so important, they seemed to agree that authenticity is an idea that different people and communities value for different reasons, but that it can also become a problematic concept leading to exclusion.  

     Other topics discussed during the livestream included tensions between different minorities communities in the United States throughout history, what it means to be “authentically white,” and potential ways to combat racism.  

     Refraining from asking questions such as, “Where are you from?”, reaching out to people in times of cultural or political strife, being mindful of micro-aggressions and differentiating language use from cultural identity are just some of the ways that the panelists suggested that can help people combat racism, but there were many more, including a recommendation for students who are interested to take the panelists’ classes to learn more.  

     To watch the recording of the livestream, follow this link

     In an email interview with Suh, he noted that while there had been interest on campus to address AAPI issues, the shootings in Atlanta in March were a major event that motivated UCCS faculty, staff and students to take action.  

     He said, “After the horrific news broke, I felt compelled to pen a statement denouncing anti-Asian violence and racism. Versions of the statement were co-signed by several departments and programs at UCCS, as well as more than 75 UCCS faculty members.  

     “Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding, Associate Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, then started a conversation about a potential teach-in, an idea that I and many other faculty immediately supported.”  

     The Teach-In series was originally planned as a single event, but Suh explained that the number of important topics and themes to cover, the expertise of those involved and the desire to do more convinced organizers that the event would need to be a series.  

     He went on to note that, “We decided to host the events on different weeks because we believed that would be the most effective way to reach a broad audience while also giving us time to prepare. We also wanted to be mindful of the Teams and Zoom ‘fatigue’ that we know a lot of students and faculty are experiencing. Having a day-long live-streamed event seemed like too much of an ask given how tired people are of staring at talking heads on a screen.” 

     One topic that was removed from the event was the discussion and analysis of images and memes depicting racism and violence. Suh explained that due to the violent and offensive nature of the images and the limited time the panelists would have for each event, they decided to nix the idea.  

     “The last thing we wanted to do was bombard the audience with problematic and potentially traumatic imagery without providing them with the appropriate space and tools to digest and reflect upon the images in a meaningful way,” he said. “We felt that doing that would run the risk of reproducing harmful stereotypes and images.”   

     Suh surmised that there were several points he hoped the audience would take from the three events. He said, “The main thing that I wanted to impress upon people was that anti-Asian racism is not new, nor is it something that can be simply made to disappear. Anti-Asian racism, like anti-Blackness and xenophobia, is very much foundational to the United States’ national identity. This isn’t a matter of debate. Those who study history, law, sociology, Ethnic Studies, etc., have been telling us this for decades.  

     “Ignoring this reality has contributed to the rise of anti-Asian discourse, hate, and violence. We can and must do better. And a great place to start is to seek information about and read up on topics such as Asian American Studies and Critical Race Theory.”   

     Thus far, Suh says that feedback on the events has been positive and reaffirming, but he intended for these events to draw forth more questions and discussions about these issues, even if the dialogue is critical.  

     “To that end, I strongly encourage students to reach out to me with inquiries (ssuh@uccs.edu) and to consider enrolling in courses that my colleagues and I teach,” Suh added. “For instance, we have a recently launched an Asian Studies minor that houses several courses that engage in many of the topics addressed in the teach-in events, but in far more depth.”