March 19, 2021
Dear Liberal Arts Community,
The hateful killings of 8 people—6 of whom were women of Asian descent—outside Atlanta earlier this week has sent shock waves through our community and our nation. The past year, during which we have been suffering through one of the most challenging periods of our history, has been plagued by increased racist violence, making this pandemic yet more unbearable for so many of our brothers and sisters. The Covid-19 virus knows no borders and yet the many months that we have been living and dying with it have been accompanied by a rise in violence and intimidation directed at communities of color, compounding the pain and loss.
The murders in Georgia may have been perpetrated by one disturbed individual, but they perpetuate a long history of violence against Asians in America and by Americans against Asians, who have been both frequent subjects of racist violence and paradoxically rendered invisible by the logics of racism and anti-Asian Orientalism. The crimes in Atlanta this week show how racism, misogyny and xenophobia come together violently—how we cannot understand racism through binary frames or misogyny without considering race and ethnicity.
I believe that education is a strong counterpunch to ignorance, and that the act of highlighting stories and voices of poorly understood people and little known events is a powerful weapon against the occlusion of Asian and Asian American history and life.
This hits close to home for me as well. My sister-in-law is Chinese and immigrated to the U.S. as a girl. She and my brother have two children (my niece and nephew) who are frequently subject to racist remarks and attitudes. Anti-Asian racism has spiked in the U.S. during the past year, causing unbearable pain during a year that was already unbearably painful.
From this, once again, we must move forward. I believe that education is a strong counterpunch to ignorance, and that the act of highlighting stories and voices of poorly understood people and little known events is a powerful weapon against the occlusion of Asian and Asian American history and life. Let us denounce in no uncertain terms the representation of Asians as inscrutable, homogenous, carriers of disease or threats. Let us also understand such intolerance alongside other forms of bigotry in order to work toward a more systemic understanding of racism. Seeing anti-Black and anti-Asian racism as mutually exclusive is part of racial formation in the U.S. I believe it’s our job as scholars, educators and students to develop a more nuanced understanding of how these and other forms of racism are interconnected.
The School of Liberal Arts is engaged in this form of education. It is part of what we mean by a commitment to a global liberal arts, one of our strategic pillars. In material terms, I have committed to increase resources to our Asian studies program, both programming, curricula and faculty resources. The Bobby Yan Lecture in Media and Social Change, named after our graduate from the class of 1995 who created the Asian American Student Union, is an example of new SLA initiatives that see the struggle for social justice as multivalent: our first two events have focused on LGBTQ+ and Latinx issues.
Education does not take away the sting of pain or the long history of hate. To those in our community, here in New Orleans and beyond, who are feeling this pain most immediately, I am sending my heartfelt condolences and commitment to continuing the struggle against ignorance. Let us stand together in that ongoing project for our collective future.
Dean and Professor
School of Liberal Arts
New Orleans, Lousiana