UArizona research team documents harassment against Asian students

Mar 19, 2021, 4:45 AM
(Facebook photo/University of Arizona)...
(Facebook photo/University of Arizona)
(Facebook photo/University of Arizona)

PHOENIX — A rise of violence and discrimination against the Asian community led a group of University of Arizona students to start documenting these experiences.

“We actually witnessed first hand increased bias and discrimination on campus,” Sei Eun Kim, a doctoral student at the university, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

She pointed to instances when people would give her an awkward stare or “avoid where I was trying to walk” at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also heard from Asian friends and neighbors who while grocery shopping “would actually hear outright racial biases and comments about them being Chinese or Asian and carrying the virus.”

“Those kind of concerns pushed us to start this research on how Asian students at the U of A are coping and dealing with experiences of racism and discrimination because of COVID-19,” Kim said.

The five interdisciplinary UArizona doctoral students with diverse Asian backgrounds started a research project to document the experiences of the Asian community during the pandemic.

They asked UArizona students with East or Southeast Asian background to share if they or someone they know have experienced any form of harassment since the pandemic began last March.

They also asked about the impact of anti-Asian discrimination on their ethnic identity and if it led them to become involved in activism. Since October, 34 Asian students have participated.

Zhenqiang Zhao, one of the UArizona doctoral students leading the research project, said he experienced discrimination at the beginning of the pandemic. He recalled wearing a face mask at an Asian supermarket.

“There was a white woman and when she looked at me wearing a mask, she was making a weird face and trying to stay away from me,” Zhao said.

Similar instances have been reported nationwide.

Research released this week by the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate shows nearly 3,800 hate incidents were reported over the course of about a year during the pandemic. In Arizona, 44 incidents were reported.

Zhao explained these types of reports may not show the true scope of the problem.

“There are some barriers for Asians to report these experiences,” he said. “Maybe some of them cannot speak English or maybe some of them worry about their legal status.”

Zhao added he and the other UArizona doctoral students working on the research project hope to “make our Asian voices heard” and bring to light specific stories of discrimination faced by the Asian community.

Kim said their goal is to eventually publish their research findings.

“It’s about educating others and recognizing these stories and building a critical consciousness within Asian American students and the community,” she said.

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UArizona research team documents harassment against Asian students