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Pandemic increases discrimination toward Asian American students

April 15, 2021

As a child, a UW-River Falls graduate said he remembers facing discrimination in school, and sometimes being one of the only Asian students in class. 

“From my personal experience growing up, it’s not anything super new,” said Zachary Vang, who graduated from UWRF in December of 2020. 

Vang majored in marketing and communications, and currently runs a photography business. The recent rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans has Vang reconsidering his future path. 

“Originally, I was searching for a job at a marketing agency in the Twin Cities,” said Vang. “But then I recently switched to the nonprofit route in something that’s more passionate about improving the community and having a direct impact. Additionally, my family is Asian and these attacks tend to be pretty sporadic. So it is scary to think about my parents and my grandparents potentially just being out in public and being attacked for simply being Asian.”

Discrimination and attacks against Asian-Americans have risen since the pandemic. Data from the Stop Asian American Pacific Isander (AAPI) Hate national report found that over 3,700 incidents have been reported since March of 2020, and this number doesn’t account for unreported incidents.

Vang participated and photographed a Stop Asian Hate rally in St. Paul back in March. He said he thought the crowd would be mostly Asian, but it was a diverse group in terms of both race and age.

At UWRF, AAPI students make up about 3% of the campus population, according to the 2019-2020 enrollment data. 

Martin Olague is the director for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB). Olague said campus had done a lot of programming focused around the increased crimes against Asian-Americans last year. 

“Coming back to campus, a lot of our attention was pulled toward COVID,” Olague said. “Recently we’ve been re-looking at this situation. I know we’ve been having talks at the cabinet level of  what our campus should do and what our response should be. So we’re still trying to figure that out.”

 Olague said these hate crimes are suspected to be tied to the racist remarks made by the former president, calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” and other offensive names. Olague sent out a statement to campus after the recent shooting in Atlanta, Georgia.

“My wife is also Asian,” Olague continued. “So when this popped up last week, I was trying to write a response from my office. Let’s just say the first draft looked pretty bad because sometimes the situation gets too personal.”

Increased violence against the Asian community can cause anxiety. Mark Huttemeir is a licensed psychologist in the state of Minnesota and a licensed professional counselor in the state of Wisconsin. He works at UWRF counseling services. Huttemeir said for students who feel that what they are doing to manage anxiety is not working or is making things worse, it may be time to seek counseling. 

“Counseling is ultimately about supporting students in problem solving next steps and some of those steps may include advocacy or engagement at the community, state, or national level,” Huttemeir said. ”That’s true for all students no matter the background.” 

Students can set up appointments with Counseling Services by calling 715-425-3884 or emailing counselingservices@uwrf.edu. Olague said the DIB staff is also available to support students in need.