The Associated Students of Madison convened for an emergency meeting to address recent acts of violence against University of Wisconsin-Madison students of Asian origin on Monday. The meeting, called by ASM Chair Ndemazea Fonkem, provided community members with an open forum to express the impact these events have had.
ASM then voted to pass an endorsement of an open letter condemning the violent attacks and urging UW-Madison leaders to take greater measures to ensure the safety of their community.
Representative Steven Shi, a member of ASM and an international student from China, explained that many students found the university’s response to the incidents troubling due to its reluctance to identify these crimes as racially motivated and its failure to indicate that the victims were each of Chinese origin.
These details were omissions, said Shi, from the administration’s response to the multiple attacks that took place near University Avenue last week. These attacks have been widely identified by the campus community as being racially motivated, and many believe they are part of a greater pattern of anti-Asian sentiment in Madison.
Attendees of the meeting were encouraged to read a personal account of one attack as written by the victim, which was shared widely on various social media platforms in both English and Chinese.
In a statement echoed by almost every student who spoke at the meeting, Shi detailed the damaging nature of a statement made by Samantha McCabe, the director of International Student Services (ISS) at the University of Wisconsin. In an interview with Channel 3000, McCabe referred to protesting as being “culturally inappropriate” in China.
Shi explained that the “demeaning, hurtful and inappropriate” nature of this comment lies in its perpetuation of harmful stereotypes about China and East Asia at large. According to Shi, protesting does not have a cultural context, as it is a “fundamental human right” to express one’s voice and be heard.
Qinlei Zhang, an international student from China, reiterated Shi’s point in condemning the comments made by McCabe. Zhang stated that if even McCabe, as the director of ISS, “lacks a sense of how to respect students from diverse cultural backgrounds […], we can see that the university actually lacks awareness of how to create a diverse and inclusive environment.”
Zhang, who stated that she was friends with multiple victims, decried the university and local police departments for failing to follow up with the victims. She expressed disappointment in the fact that the victims were not contacted by local police departments, mental health resources or university representatives to ensure their well-being in the wake of these attacks.
ASM held a vote to endorse a letter to the university administration and relevant authorities regarding their response to these attacks. The letter condemned a statement released by the Madison Police Department saying — at the time — detectives did not have information that led them to believe the attacks were racially motivated.
ASM called the statement “incompatible with what we have learned from multiple credible sources, including victims themselves.”
The letter also urged the university to take more direct measures to combat similar crimes. Some of the letter’s demands included the establishment of mandatory diversity trainings for students, a designated point of contact for APIDA (Asian-American, Pacific Islander and Desi American) students who may be victimized and transparency in the investigation process.
The letter was taken to the floor for open debate. A vote was then taken, resulting in its successful passage.