Vanderbilt’s Response to COVID-19 and Asian Xenophobia


Julian Yang, Contributor

Situated across the road from each other, the parking lots of Gold Spa and Aroma Therapy Spa are filled with dozens of flowers and signs silently expressing pain and anger against the violence that took the lives of eight people in these two locations and a third just thirty minutes away. The Mar. 16 shootings in Atlanta marked the peak in both severity and scale of the ongoing violence directed towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). 

The eight victims join a long list of people, many of whom are elderly, who have experienced verbal or physical violence on account of their Asian heritage. Vicha Ratanapakdee died on Jan. 28 after being forcefully pushed to the ground in San Francisco. An 89-year-old woman was set on fire in Brooklyn on Jul. 14, 2020, sparking the hashtag #TheyCantBurnUsAll

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AAPI community has dealt with a dramatic upsurge in hate crimes related to the virus’s origin in Wuhan, China. In January 2020, amidst the labeling of “Wuhan” and “Chinese” coronavirus by media outlets such as CNN and NBC as well as President Trump’s use of the terms “Chinavirus” and “kung flu,” hate crimes against AAPI increased by more than 150%. 

After the attacks in Atlanta, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Captain Jay Baker described the 21-year-old suspect Robert Aaron Long as being “fed up and kind of at the end of his rope,” and having “a bad day.”

In the weeks leading up to the Atlanta shooting, Vanderbilt students worked to bring attention to the violence being committed against the AAPI community. On Feb. 15, Asian American Student Association (AASA) released a statement on the spike in violence since the start of 2021, expressing their disappointment with Vanderbilt’s silence and calling on the university to acknowledge and condemn anti-Asian racism. On Feb. 17, Vanderbilt Student Government held a Senate Assembly open to all students and adopted Resolution 20-21-20 in support of the AAPI community. 

The shootings in Atlanta occurred one month later, on the evening of Mar. 16. At around 9 a.m. on Mar. 17, Chancellor Diermeier released a statement marking one year since COVID-19 disrupted life at Vanderbilt, without mention of Atlanta. Shortly after came a post from Vanderbilt’s Instagram celebrating Founder’s Day and asking people to comment “[their] favorite thing about Vanderbilt.” Students flooded the post with comments calling out the university’s silence on the violence in Atlanta. At 4 p.m. on Mar. 17 came a statement from the Dean of Students recognizing the shootings and “other recent violent attacks on Asians and Asian Americans.” Chancellor Diermeier’s most recent statement comes more than a full month after the incident. 

Image Credit: Jin Heo, Vanderbilt Political Review