Personal Essays

AAPI+ community has made incremental improvements, but there’s more work to be done

Emily Steinberger | Editor in chief

A Syracuse University student explains what the AAPI+ community can improve on and what kind of legacy they want to leave at the university.

My name is Isaac Ryu. My pronouns are he/him/his, I am Korean American and a senior broadcast digital journalism student at Syracuse University.

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece titled, “Complacency is not the solution to anti-Asian hate.” I wrote the column as a reaction to the anti-Asian hate plaguing our country, pleading to SU’s student body to find a solution to end these hateful actions.

Recently, updated data from the FBI suggests that anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 73% in 2020, a significant increase from 2019. The anti-Asian hate crimes took the country by storm and exposed a deep-rooted issue that has plagued our community for decades.

In reaction, several AAPI+ interest organizations on campus hosted events in solidarity in response to those hate crimes. These events were created with the purpose of education, empowerment and fostering a safe environment for those who were and have been subject to hate. 

I was proud of these events.

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Organizations that were mostly social, like Asian Students in America, the Korean American Student Association and the Filipino Student Association began to focus on education. People in our community took advantage of their platforms, and the conversation grew louder every day. It was the start of something great. But like all movements, it is hard to maintain growth.

Fast forward to fall 2021. Where do we stand?

The goal of this column is to reflect on the past few months. The answers to the questions that I am trying to ask are far from black and white but in turn, leave room for productive conversation from unique perspectives.

In this piece, you will hear the voices of members of the SU Asian American and Pacific Islander  + community who are active in our organizations around campus. They are not representing their organization, just themselves.

I broke down the conversation into three questions. Each individual offered a unique perspective influenced by their identities. After listening, thinking and listening some more, here is what I found.

  1. How have you seen our community grow in regards to the AAPI+ community in the past few months?

In April, organizations and individuals in our community hosted a vigil to support the AAPI+ community. Students across campus came to listen, heal and learn. The vigil was the first event of its kind at SU, and Valrie Paynton, a junior and a member of the Multicultural Greek Council, said that was a turning point for many people and organizations. 

“Since then, I’ve felt a sense of change among the AAPI community members … there has been a more open-minded mentality coming from organizations allowing for more collaboration and a larger space for ideas to be heard in order to improve in making our mark on campus,” she said.

That open-mindedness paved the way for educational events from different organizations on campus. A much-needed sense of unity found its place at a school that has an undergraduate population that is 54% white.

Thomas Cheng, a junior at SU and the vice president of Asian Students in America, said that he has seen AAPI+ interest organizations revisit their purpose on campus. In that effort to revisit their purpose, he saw more effort from organizations to expand and provide resources.

“Many organizations have either partnered up with outside resources to provide their members with a professional alumni network, held forums regarding these issues, and/or supported organizations that combated against AAPI hate,” he said.

It is this effort for growth that drives our community towards a more inclusive and diverse future. While in recent years diversity and inclusion have been a topic of contention at SU, the AAPI+ community has made incremental improvements to address just that.

  1. What are some things our community can improve on?

Of the people I interviewed, most of them said the AAPI+ community can improve on building relationships. The AAPI+ community includes several different groups on campus, and while there has been an increased effort to bring us together, there is still work to do.

Julia Evans, a senior at SU and a member of Kappa Phi Lambda, an Asian-interest sorority on campus, explained to me that she sees the lack of connection specifically between the Asian American and Asian identifying international students.

“I think some people don’t understand that being an Asian in America is very different from being Asian American in America,” she said.

Evans said that the story of our community is oftentimes slanted towards Asian Americans, but the international student narrative remains mostly untouched. While the sharing of that narrative may be separated by a language barrier or hesitancy, there are opportunities to start the conversation. Alienating individuals who are also affected by discrimination and violence will only stunt the growth that we so desperately advocated for last year.

Another issue that those interviewed had similar views on is how the diverse cultures and stories of the AAPI+ community are told inside and outside of SU. Shirley Chen, a sophomore and a member of Sigma Psi Zeta, a multicultural Asian-interest Greek organization, said resisting the influence of the media is important for growth. 

“The lack of conversation and self/peer education on this topic has already led to the energy from the Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate movement dwindling, and as a consequence, it turned into another fad in the media — where we were already invisible in the first place,” she said.

Becca Malamud, a junior and a member of Kappa Phi Lambda also sees that it is the control that others have on the stories of the AAPI+ community that hinders progress.

“I think a big part of culture generally is controlled by what is mainstream, and what is considered trendy,” she said.

What is trendy or what is newsworthy on social media or in publications has had both a positive and negative impact on social justice movements. These movements have harnessed the power of social media and journalism to tell stories that need to be told. Conversely, after trending movements lose traction in the media, the number of views and clicks may decrease.

According to an article from Axios, the hashtag #StopAsianHate saw significant use in mid-March 2021 but then significantly dropped off, which correlates with efforts to raise awareness of the hate crimes against the AAPI+ community. 

A Cornell University study, which analyzed the tweets concerning #StopAsianHate or #Stop AAPIHate of over 46,000 Twitter users, also supports this trend. The data showed about 10,000 tweets containing those hashtags and other terms related to the movement on March 19, 2021, but a drop in over 7,000 just a few days after.

It is hard to remove ourselves from the trendy or mainstream nature of the news cycle, but in order to combat issues such as being lulled into complacency, we must continue to be diligent and try our best to be consistent.

I think there is danger in only looking at the positives. While we have made progress, there is still work to be done. Being able to be critical of ourselves is a crucial skill that will not only improve our mindset, but also our relationships going forward.

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  1. What kind of legacy do you want to leave at Syracuse?

At the end of the day, the AAPI+ student population at SU is small. Yvonne Kuo, a sophomore and the cultural director of ASIA, said that despite the work that needs to be done, “there’s a really strong sense of community that can’t be found anywhere else.”

It is in that community that individuals build their legacies and make an impact on future students.

Evans wants her legacy to be shaped by the growth that others experience through her efforts, no matter how hard it gets.

“I just hope that people have been given the opportunity through the work that I’ve personally done to gain an interest in learning more about all these topics …They’re very intricate; they’re complex … You should never give up and it’s tiring, and it can be draining,” Evans said. “But at the same time, I feel like if you give up the legacy that everyone before you built up before you, it will also dwindle. I think you can only build a legacy if you are fully motivated to do so and you don’t give up on the SU community.”

As a member of Kappa Phi Lambda, Malamud wants to set an expectation of pushing for change. 

“I would very much like to leave a legacy of openness, and education and a drive to want to host events, and learn about other people and as members of the AAPI community, and also … (the) Latinx, Black community and Native American communities,” Malamud said. “I really think that it’s so important to support one another, understand different forms of oppression and to understand what we are going through and how to address this.”

Finally, Paynton hopes that her legacy is that of inclusion, solidarity and unity amongst different groups on campus.

“I want to create a campus environment in which organizations on campus aren’t so segregated. A legacy where the AAPI community doesn’t have to advocate for AAPI rights by itself, where the Black and Latino communities don’t have to advocate for themselves. I hope that organizations in the AAPI community will come together more like they did last semester and continue to work together to make the AAPI community voice heard campus-wide.”

Conclusion (Findings)

While writing this piece I asked myself a lot of questions. But the most important one that I had to answer is: why? Why did I want to write this column?

Part of me wanted more from our community. Part of me saw that there is a reluctance to speak. Part of me wanted to cover a story I felt needed to be covered.

As I listened and learned, I found that while things aren’t perfect, and they may never be, people and organizations are taking small steps in the right direction. Those changes may not be happening in the open, but they are happening. Now more than ever, it is the attitude in which we must approach change that is most important.

So I realized that the real reason why I am writing this piece is not that I am doing my duty as a journalist or to write an exposé, but it’s because I care about our community. I want to see us grow, bond and find our voices.

With that being said, I would like to thank every single person who chose to take part in this article but also those who chose not to take part. Those of you who agreed to give quotes, I appreciate your openness and willingness to share your experiences on this campus. For those of you who did not agree to contribute, I am equally as grateful. You were logical and supportive in your responses and truly had the best interest of everyone surrounding you. This is a hard topic to discuss, and the fact that we are able to have those discussions is proof of growth.

When speaking to Paynton, she gave me a quote that I think should set the tone for how we should move forward as a whole.

“When it comes to advocating for the rights of marginalized groups or advocating for our voices to be heard, the work should never end — equality is really a never-ending battle, but it should be one that we are excited to face.”

The keyword in that quote is groups. The AAPI+ community isn’t the only marginalized group in the United States, and it certainly isn’t the only one at SU. The Black community, the Latino community, the Indigenous community, the LGBTQ community and so many more have experienced discrimination. We should be trying to build each other up and listen and learn.

In the past, Asian countries and groups practiced isolationism, but now is the time where we need to make a concerted effort to become active members in the AAPI+ community on campus. It will take time and there may even be resistance, but we must be humble, open-minded and ready to absorb as much as possible. Think about the change we can provoke on this campus if our voices are unified. 

This is my hope for the coming years, and that will also be my next column when I get back to campus — an honest conversation between the AAPI+ community and other marginalized communities on campus. Stay tuned.

Isaac Ryu, ‘22







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