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Asian student groups present demands to administration, criticize response to anti-Asian violence

Seven Asian student groups released a list of demands Sunday, calling for the University to provide greater support for students in light of the recent spike in anti-Asian violence.

The letter, which had around 1,000 signatories as of Tuesday evening, was co-written by the Asian American Alliance, Asian American Studies Working Group, Asian Students Association, Southeast Asian Students Association, Diya, Japanese Culture Club and Korean Undergraduate Student Association. 

The writers expressed disappointment with Duke’s response to racism, including a recent email sent within the Sanford School of Public Policy. The letter called for Duke to maintain its commitment to the Asian/American and Diaspora studies and establish an ethnic studies department, provide a well-resourced cultural center for students of color, disaggregate data on Asian ethnic groups, and establish an explicit hate and bias policy.

The writers wrote that although their organizations have been mobilizing through various means, they felt that the administration has “failed to support our needs or reach out in solidarity.”

“As a result, we are burnt out, tired, and expect more from our administration,” the letter reads.

With their demands, the letter writers requested to meet with several administrators, namely Shruti Desai, associate vice president of student affairs for campus life; Gary Bennett, vice provost of undergraduate education; Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president of student affairs; John Blackshear, dean of students and associate vice president of student affairs; and President Vincent Price.

The authors of the demands criticized Duke’s response to recent anti-Asian violence. They specifically pointed to a March 5 email sent by Price condemning the ongoing violence against Asian American communities, calling it “perfunctory” and “disingenuous” and saying that little tangible action had been taken to curb racism at Duke. 

They also noted that no statement was sent by Price or the administration in the four days following the murder of eight people in Atlanta, including six Asian women. They added that on March 18, Duke’s Twitter account “passively retweeted” Price’s original statement with an excerpt from the March 5 letter: “Let us condemn together this violence and hatred in all its forms, and renew our commitments to work together toward justice and inclusion for our nation and the world.”

This was followed up with a tweet saying, “Please reach out if you need to talk” and listing campus resources. Neither tweet directly acknowledged “the hurts and harms of these incidents on victims, their loved ones, and the larger Asian and Asian American community,” the letter stated. 

The writers also highlighted an email sent Friday by Judith Kelley, dean of the Sanford School, in which the names of the victims were omitted. While students understood the omission to be unintentional, the letter stated that “the call for accountability by Kelley was met with cursory excuses instead of sincere apology.”

Kelley acknowledged to The Chronicle on Sunday that the original email contained a mistake and said she regretted that her message caused pain to the AAPI community.

“Despite promises to students following these demands to do better throughout this past decade, Duke continues to not fulfill asks and demands from Asian and Asian American students,” the letter reads.

“We acknowledge and share the pain and anguish of the AAPI community during this very difficult time,” Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, wrote in a Tuesday email to The Chronicle. “Our new Associate VP for Student Affairs Shruti Desai already reached out to the Asian student association leaders to explore the ways in which we can work together to continue to advance our shared commitments to health, safety, equity and justice.”

Schoenfeld’s response did not address why there was no additional statement from administrators after the Atlanta murders.

McMahon wrote in an email to The Chronicle that Desai, who started working at the University last week, has been in touch with the petition authors “to see how we can be most helpful related to supporting mental health concerns, including the idea of partnering to deepen mental health supports in partnership with an identity or cultural center space, moving on the data disaggregation request from 2020 in partnership with other campus offices, and clarifying any questions the group might have about our hate and bias ‘accelerator’ policy.”

She also wrote that it is important to her and others in Student Affairs that they take cues from student leaders and “identify forms of outreach that are sensitive to what students feel is most needed”. Additionally, Li-Chen Chin, assistant vice president for intercultural programs in student affairs, and identity and cultural center leaders have been working with students and student groups in response to anti-AAPI acts of hate, McMahon wrote.

As examples of student support, McMahon also highlighted Monday night’s CAPS drop-in session for Asian students and that CAPS staff were present at the "Addressing Asian Racism and Hate" event hosted by the Sanford School.

Ethnic studies

The letter writers’ calls for an ethnic studies department or “equivalent institution” are a continuation of advocacy by the Asian American Studies Working Group, the Black Coalition Against Policing and Mi Gente. The Asian American Studies Working Group, in particular, was founded in 2016 and was instrumental in the development of the Asian American and Diaspora Studies program that launched in 2018. The working group continues to push for a major, minor and certificate, diverse faculty and a robust curriculum, according to an information sheet for the organization. 

Without the institutionalization of ethnic studies, the letter reads, “the burden of education has fallen onto the students” who design house courses, research symposia, workshops and teach-ins. 

The letter additionally calls for Duke to implement Native and Indigenous studies courses; cultivate the pre-existing Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South; hire Latinx and “non-white primarily employed Africanist” faculty in African and African American Studies; establish courses and resources for multiracial studies; and offer regular courses related to Africa and the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia.

In addition to these demands, the group called for Duke to be “transparent and accountable to the commitments made by their taskforce on anti-racism.”

Cultural centers and mental health

The letter called for increased resources for cultural centers on campus, given that “Duke constantly points students to seek support and resources from student-facing identity and cultural centers,” and improved mental health resources.

The letter writers wrote that the Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) BASE space at the Center for Multicultural Affairs does not adequately support the more than 15 Asian student groups on campus, that there are currently no Asian staff in the CMA and there is a high turnover rate of student coordinators due to the workload. 

As a result, their short-term goals call for Duke to fill current vacancies at the CMA and other identity and cultural centers, “examine expectations of workload,” and increase funding and institutional support for student heritage months and events. The letter writers also called for more adequate mental health resources, including “more culturally and structurally competent therapists” and better representation at Counseling and Psychological Services. 

In addition to the short-term goals, the groups’ long-term demands include the formation of cultural centers that “better serve the needs of AAPI, Latinx and Native students,” continued funding and support to the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, and a commitment to increase the availability of mental health resources and support for marginalized communities.

Data disaggregation

The letter writers argue that collapsing multiple ethnicities under the AAPI label in admissions data obscures differences between communities and “reinforces the monolithic stereotypes of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” Disaggregating this data would allow the University to provide greater support to students and families, they state.

They called for Duke to implement a formal data disaggregation survey, release specific University admissions data, conduct intentional outreach and recruitment of underrepresented AAPI students in North Carolina, assess how AAPI students are utilizing resources such as CAPS and the Student Disability Access Office, and translate and offer documents in various AAPI languages such as Bengali and Hindi.

Hate and bias

Students have been advocating for a comprehensive hate and bias policy since at least 2013, according to the letter, and despite a recent commitment from administration to develop this policy, the letter's authors write that “that demand has still not been met.”

“There’s a lack of transparency, accountability, or commitment to implement any of their recommendations other than a progress bar on a website,” the letter reads, referring to the progress bars on Duke’s anti-racism website.

As of Sunday, eight of the 39 commitments listed on the site were indicated as being fully implemented, including renaming West Residence Hall and Reuben-Cooke Building, creating a steering committee for first generation and low income students, implementing the “Foundations of Equity” orientation program for first-years, supporting Durham Public Schools students, and conducting annual senior leadership training. The rest were designated as “initiated” or “in planning.”

The group called for Duke to “update the Duke Community Standard and Office of Student Conduct’s Undergraduate Policies to explicitly address discriminatory, marginalizing, and oppressive conduct by recognized student groups” and include the statement: “I will value others regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, national origin, age, ability status, citizenship status, or other identity.”

The University should develop “clear and concrete” consequences for those that violate the policy, the letter reads. They also wrote that entire student groups should be able to face accountability for the actions of individual members under the hate and bias policy, similar to the application of COVID-19 policies. They also called for greater transparency and accountability regarding the hate and bias task force.

“I recognize that students are eager for clear evidence of meaningful change, and [the anti-racism website] is intended to offer that,” McMahon wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “I want to ensure our students are heard on these crucial issues, and I sincerely thank our student leaders and the many student affairs team members who strive to make continuous progress and address bias and hate.  We remain committed to staying the course on these efforts.”

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