Anti-Asian bias rises amid COVID-19, Ohio State students say college community no exception

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Racism and violence against Asians in the United States has been another side effect of COVID-19. Ahead of the Lunar New Year, videos of elderly Asians and Asian Americans being assaulted began circulating on social media. Credit: Xinhua/Sipa USA via TNS

Stop AAPI Hatea reporting center founded in March 2020 to track hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, received 2,808 reports of anti-Asian sentiment between March 19 and December 31, 2020.

Ohio State students said the college community was no exception.

Jacob Chang, a third-year psychology and political science student, is an international student who said he has faced several acts of discrimination since the start of the pandemic, such as someone kicking him in the snow near the campus.

Chang, vice president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Society, said his work at Ohio State raised awareness of the reality faced by students who did not grow up in America.

“[International students] are too busy surviving, adapting, they don’t have time to think about what they deserve, what they want or what they can achieve. That’s the problem,” Chang said.

Since some people agree with Asian stereotypes, Chang said it’s harder to demonstrate why they’re harmful. He said Asian Americans and international students often have to live with daily microaggressions.

“[Going] in the US means you face A, B, C, D, E here. You have to speak English, [face] potential discrimination, racist and xenophobic people. It’s a given, so people are normalizing,” Chang said.

A popular media theme is the model minority myth, the stereotype that all Asian individuals who immigrate to America are wealthy, successful and face no real hardship, Chang said. The myth alleviates the problems faced by Asian Americans and serves as an object of racism against other minorities who are not considered part of the model minority.

Chang said films such as “Crazy Rich Asians” made some people believe that not all Asians face economic or xenophobic burdens. He also said there was a lack of historical education on topics such as Japanese internment camps during World War II and anti-Chinese immigration laws of the 19th century.

“I think in a lot of ways the media treats our identity as a form of entertainment rather than a form of things that we need to think about and people need to be educated about,” Chang said.

Ohio State researchers conducted a nationwide survey measuring the effect of prejudice, maladaptive coping – blaming Asians for COVID-19 – and biased media on the stigmatization of Asians and Asian Americans during the pandemic. Hyunyi Cho, the study’s lead author and a communications professor at Ohio State, said all three contributed, but pre-existing racial biases played the biggest role.

“One of the surprising things was the extent, the impact of the stereotypical beliefs and emotions associated with Asians in America and how they [impacted] prejudice and stigma,” Cho said.

However, some Asian students said they expected the increase in hate displayed on social media after politicians and some media outlets began associating the virus with China.

Maria Le, president of the Vietnamese Student Association, said she found out about the attacks from her friends sharing videos on social media. However, other forms of media continue to portray Asians in a certain light, underrepresenting the predicament and proliferating certain stereotypes.

“It’s always been here. It’s only now that people realize these things happen,” said Le, a third-year human resources student.

Cho said the findings pose an ongoing problem for all minorities beyond the Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American community. As long as misinformation and pre-existing biases remain prevalent in society, minorities will be targeted.

“I hope we learn from this situation. But the underlying stereotypical beliefs, when unchallenged, will remain, and then they will reappear when times get tough,” Cho said. ‘East [a] serious problem for Asians and for any minority group of any kind.

Even with this research and the growing attention to issues of racism, Cho said there remain knowledge gaps and under-reporting in the media, resulting in a lack of awareness among those not directly involved.

“It’s frustrating. It’s also a manifestation of the deep-seated prejudice against the Asian American community as a whole. Like we don’t matter,” Cho said.

Thinking in perspective and openly sharing personal experiences are some of the ways Cho said she thinks progress can be made to minimize discrimination, slowly but surely.

“One of the important avenues to follow is to communicate about the common humanity that underlies us all. It connects us all,” Cho said.

Le said that at the start of the pandemic, she was afraid to go out for fear of being treated as if she “had the virus”. Now, she said she hopes more information will be disseminated about the discrimination to the Asian community so that a more empathetic point of view can be shared by all.

“At the end of the day, we’re all the same,” Le said. “We shouldn’t treat each other terribly.”

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this story stated that Cho’s research showed that pre-existing prejudice, maladaptive adaptation, and biased media had all “strongly” contributed to increased violence against Asian Americans. This story has been edited to more accurately reflect that pre-existing bias is the primary factor.

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