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'We were just kind of shocked': Asian American students report racist comments in recent weeks

<p>Colorful leaves frame the Duke Chapel on a chilly fall day.</p>

Colorful leaves frame the Duke Chapel on a chilly fall day.

When first-year Greta Chen attended a men’s basketball game with friends, she expected everyone’s attention to be on the team—she didn’t anticipate that a reporter would focus on her race instead. 

During the game, Chen and her female friends noticed a sports reporter with press credentials writing and tweeting racially targeted comments about her group, including, “The Asian chick Cameron Crazies behind me are openly swooning over Grayson Allen the way their moms swooned over Cheap Trick.”

The instance is one of several events in recent weeks in which Asian American undergraduates have reported experiencing racial comments and slurs, calling into question the treatment of Asian American students on Duke’s campus. 

Cameron Indoor

At the Blue Devils’ matchup against South Dakota Dec. 2, Chen and her friends stood in the student section behind College Insider reporter John Stansberry, whose Twitter username is @LonelyTailgater. She said that one of her friends looked over Stansberry’s shoulder and saw he was tweeting about them. One post included a photo of the group taken without their permission with the caption, “I haven’t been this scrunched up with Asian chicks since I came out of my Korean mother’s womb.”

“We were just kind of shocked,” Chen said. “We didn’t know what to do, we didn’t want to make a big deal in the middle of the game.”

Before he deleted his Twitter account, students saw that he has also recently made many sexist and ableist tweets, including one about “banging this chick” who was missing her left arm. 

They reported the tweet through the platform, and Chen later posted about the experience on Facebook. She received a response from senior Christine Lee, president of the Asian Students Association, offering to help report Stansberry. 

After making sure that Chen was emotionally supported, Lee reached out to Jon Jackson, senior associate director of athletics, and senior Riyanka Ganguly, president of Duke Student Government. 

Ganguly and Lee met with Jackson the next day, and he informed them that this type of behavior was not welcome in Cameron Indoor Stadium and that the reporter would never be credentialed in Cameron again. Jackson also spoke to the reporter’s supervisor. 

In Ganguly’s weekly DSG email to the student body, she wrote that Duke Athletics had attempted to contact the reporter via email and phone but could not reach him. She noted that he was not credentialed for the entire season and that this was the second or third time this season he attended a game. The South Dakota game was the final game he was scheduled to attend. 

Ganguly email noted that Duke Athletics had told her the reporter’s actions were "100 percent contrary to what we believe as a department and basketball program." 

Chen said that she was appreciative of the help she had received from ASA. 

“Christine messaged me and said if it’s okay with you, we’re going to contact some people,” she said. “They took care of everything.”


In another recent incident, first-year Sam Kim reported being asked racially insensitive questions by a Marketplace employee. 

Kim—who is a news writer for The Chronicle—explained that while trying to order a black bean burger, the cook made comments to him such as "I bet you're from California, I am 100 percent sure,” "I bet you play piano, too" and "No no, where are you really from?"

“It was really off-putting,” Kim said. “If that happened any other day, I would’ve called him out on it, but I was just so taken aback.”

He noted that the employee didn’t ask for his name until the end of the conversation, and he described the interaction as “an uncomfortable experience.”

Although Kim initially put the incident out of his mind, he later told his parents about it, and they found it outrageous. As he started thinking more about it, he said he realized that students at Duke shouldn’t have to experience this and made a post on Fix My Campus about it. 

“Many of the staff assume right off the bat that I don't speak English (lived here for 10 years, thank you very much) and treat me accordingly, which is humiliating, to say the least,” part of the post read. “After all the talk of diversity and inclusivity, this is not what I expected when I came to Duke.”

Although Kim received many supportive comments, some accused him of typecasting Marketplace employees as racist and attributed the questions to the South’s culture, in which people more frequently strike up conversations with strangers. 

Others said that the incident might not be representative of the entire Marketplace staff and suggested that racial sensitivity training might not be necessary for everyone in Duke Dining, just a few individuals. 

“I was inclined to respond, but I could sense some argument was starting to build up and decided to stay out of it,” Kim said. “I didn’t comment on it.”

Later, Ganguly commented on the post explaining that DSG had reached out to Barbara Stokes, director of residential dining services, who passed on her apologies. She told Ganguly that Dining conducts staff training three times a year and that future sessions, including one in January, would involve sensitivity training.

In an email to The Chronicle, Stokes explained that this was the first complaint about racially insensitive comments Dining had received at Marketplace and that Dining had offered to meet with the student. 

“Over the course of the year, Duke Dining provides mandatory ongoing training on many topics,” Stokes wrote. “Specifically this winter break one of the sessions will be diversity training. We want everyone who dines with us to truly feel a welcoming environment.” 

Overhearing racial slurs

In a Dec. 2 post on the “All Duke” Facebook page, first-year Joyce Gu reported that a group of guys who passed by her and her friends outside Gilbert-Addoms residence hall started saying “ching chong ching chong.” 

Gu went on to list resources on campus that can educate students about Asian-American culture, including the Center for Multicultural Affairs and the department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies. 

“Duke's Asian Student Association consists of a group of lovely people who seek to increase awareness of issues around Asian heritage and work to make Duke a place free from discrimination stemming from ethnic or racial identity,” she wrote. 

Her post—which ended with “have a great and informed day”—received more than 20 supportive comments and 930 likes. 

Gu declined to speak with The Chronicle about the incident due to her workload during finals week. 

The Duke environment 

In a statement to The Chronicle, the ASA executive board explained that although some members of the University community are dedicated to improving issues that the Asian American community experiences, others don't know or care. 

“One example would be that of the perpetual foreigner concept,” they said. “This is still very prevalent, even at this university. There have been several occasions that students, staff, faculty and administration have made certain assumptions about Asian American students and ASA based off of this concept, often taking from Orientalist stereotypes as well.”

They explained that Asian American students are sometimes called racist slurs by their peers and that the hypersexualization of Asian American women often manifests itself in dating and harassment.

In addition, there’s an assumption that everyone under the umbrella of “Asian American” is all the same. Although 30 percent of Duke students are Asian and Asian American, there is a lot diversity within that group, in terms of both ethnicity and socioeconomic status, which shapes Asian American communities on campus. 

Kim noted that much of the U.S. has the perception that the country is a salad in which all cultures are mixed together—but the problem is that white people are the base of that salad and all the other cultures are just thrown in as toppings. 

“Just because you’re not white doesn't make you any less American than anyone else,” he said. “I’ve been living here for 10 years, and I’m a citizen. It’s kind of dehumanizing that people would assume I am less of an American.” 

He explained that he hasn’t personally experienced other instances of bias at Duke and that he thinks the University is good at handling discrimination.  

Chen also noted that she doesn’t think the instance she experienced is symbolic of people in general on Duke’s campus, but that the positive response she received was more representative.

“There were a lot of people who messaged me and said your anger is valid, your hurt is valid,” she said. 

The ASA executive board noted that the Duke administration has done a good job of creating more resources for Asian American students such as the AAPI BASE within the Center for Multicultural Affairs. Students and faculty have also been working to create an Asian American studies program. 

Recently, ASA has also reached out to the First-Year Advisory Counselor Board about improving first-year diversity training and is continuing to support the work of student organizations and identity groups on campus. 

“All of these resources have largely benefitted the work ASA is able to do, and it has allowed us the freedom to be able to expand our own programming and the support and cognitive space to be able to think about greater issues of identity, both on and off campus,” they wrote. 

Kim explained the importance of University-wide racial sensitivity training, noting that although some people think microaggressions are inconsequential, their impact builds up over time. 

“Many people don't realize they are offensive and dehumanizing,” he said. “I feel like if they were taught, it would go a long way.” 


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