On-campus forum invites Asian and Asian-American students to discuss recent discrimination within the community

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Photo: Luda Tang

Students gathered in the Cultural Center of 172 Tremont.

By Faith Bugenhagen

Emi Bague, assistant director of international student career services, shared her initial reaction to learning of last month’s on-campus racist vandalism during a talk in the Cultural Center on Tuesday.

“When this happened on campus a couple weeks ago, I have to say, off the top, I was numb, and I responded emotionally two or three weeks later,” Bague said.

The “Creating and Holding Space for our Community” event gave Emerson community members the opportunity to discuss their disdain towards anti-Asian discriminatory graffiti found on the doors of student dorms in Little Building on Jan. 24.

The event was hosted as an open forum—students and community members aired their grievances and reactions towards the graffiti and other anti-Asian discrimination on campus that has resulted from rising fears related to Coronavirus.

Along with Bague, Assistant Director of Intercultural and LGBTQ+ Services Jamaica Siroky, and Director of the International Student Affairs Office Andrea Popa, hosted the gathering in hopes of creating a dialogue in a safe-space for Asian and Asian American members among the college.

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“I want to ensure that this is a place that we can talk, we can practice sharing, even if it pushes us a step out of our comfort zones,” Bague said.

Bague emphasized that communication might help people in the community grasp the emotional impact racially charged incidents can have on individuals.

“I was thinking about other folks, not even realizing my tears on the table,” Bague said.

Siroky echoed similar sentiments to feeling detached from the personal impact of the news of the graffiti had on Emerson’s community.

“There is a level of nonchalance to this that I think also exists as we go through the process,” he said.

President M. Lee Pelton informed the Emerson community about the derogatory graffiti, the second incident of discriminatory vandalism that week, Jan. 26 in a campus-wide email.

“While the occupants of each vandalized space are of varied cultural backgrounds, the language included derogatory words that have been used to demean Asians and Asian-Americans,” Pelton wrote in the statement.

Siroky constructed an interactive poll to facilitate a conversation with the students and community members present, so they did not have to verbally express their reactions toward the incident.

The poll brought singular words onto the screen in the shape of a cloud in front of all the audience members. The terms “disgust”, “heartbroken”, “angry”, and “pissed,” appeared to be the main responses.

“The cloud of words is gloomy,” Siroky said. “But it doesn’t have to stay that way.”

Siroky said she did not discredit any emotions present in the room, but wanted to encourage community members to move towards what can be done in the future rather than dwell on the hateful incident.

“It’s encouraging conversation,” he said to the audience, “Whether it is addressing the stupidity, the ignorance, the hate, the powerlessness, or even just the naivety of it all.”