This time last year, we were still in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Daily life as we knew it was changing and many throughout the United States reacted in an unfortunate, but predictable way by engaging in racial scapegoating. The virus’s origins in China were used as justification for broad anti-Asian sentiment and many of us warned that this hateful, reactionary rhetoric would lead to increased harassment and violence in real life. Sure enough, anti-Asian hate crimes rapidly increased, but fast forward to 2021 and things have taken an even more grim turn. In recent weeks, there have been mass shootings, such as those in Atlanta, where the victims included six Asian American women, and Indianapolis, where four victims were members of the Sikh community, as well as videos of horrific physical assaults against Asian American elders.
The spike in anti-Asian hate crimes adds a particular sense of urgency to Asian, Desi, and Pacific Island American Heritage Month. Recognizing and celebrating the contributions and diversity of ADPI communities is especially important in combating marginalization at all levels of society.
Each May, we celebrate ADPI Heritage Month. This observation began as a week-long celebration instituted by the President Jimmy Carter Administration in 1978. President George H.W. Bush expanded the celebration to a full month in 1990. While this year’s observation is happening with the backdrop of a massive increase in hate crimes and anti-Asian sentiment, it’s critical that we use this month to highlight the broad experiences of ADPI communities and share visions and stories of hope, as opposed to letting this moment be defined by trauma and white supremacy. ADPI Heritage Month provides a great opportunity to do all of the above and encourage continued engagement throughout the rest of the year.
When we think about historic contributions, it would be impossible not to note that in January, Kamala Harris became the first person of Indian descent (as well as the first Black woman) to serve as Vice President of the US. In addition to this, numerous ADPI politicians had historic election wins throughout the country and this state.
These wins contrasted with discussions around systemic disparities and differences within ADPI communities that have challenged the model minority myth that’s so pervasive in the US. The model minority myth centers people of East Asian descent and paints them as naturally intelligent and hardworking, in large part, to demonize other minorities and uphold white supremacy. Many of us have taken this myth for granted, but disparities in things like distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to Pacific Islander communities clearly demonstrates how the model minority myth erases other members of the ADPI community. When you combine that with the aforementioned spike in terroristic violence, it’s also clear that this myth doesn’t serve or protect the safety of the East Asian people it’s supposed to elevate.
One way to hold ourselves accountable for addressing these systemic disparities at the University of Oregon is to look at data. According to the US Census Bureau, Asian and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander communities make up 4.9 percent and 0.5 percent of the Oregon population, respectively. At the UO, according to the Office of Institutional Research, these communities account for 6.4 percent and 0.4 percent of students, respectively, not including international students. When we aggregate these numbers for undergraduate and graduate students, the numbers shift to 6.5 percent Asian and 0.5 percent for Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander for undergrads and 6 percent and 0.2 percent for graduate students in the aforementioned categories. Meanwhile, the numbers for staff in these respective categories break down as 3.9 percent Asian and 0.5 percent Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander.
While these numbers indicate an overrepresentation of students who identify as Asian alone, they also show underrepresentation in staff of similar backgrounds. Likewise, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander communities are especially underrepresented when it comes to graduate students. As we work to become a top research institution, it’s important we continue to push for equity in recruitment and retention so students and staff alike can get the most out of their UO experience.
As we celebrate ADPI Heritage Month 2021, the UO will be providing plenty of opportunities to engage in these necessary conversations. Some of this year’s festivities include the APASU Night Market, Addressing Anti-Asian Violence: ADPI Student Community Dialogue, the Hawaii Club Luau and Myriad Treasures: Celebrating the Reinstallation of the Soreng Gallery of Chinese Art. We hope you can join us! For a full list of activities and updates, please visit the UO Equity and Inclusion Heritage Month page.