Asians and Pacific Islanders Demanding Justice hosts ‘Occupy Umrath’ event responding to GroupMe controversy

Ted Moskal | Contributing Reporter

About 30 students attended the “Occupy Umrath” demonstration in the lobby of Umrath House Oct. 11.

Asians and Pacific Islanders Demanding Justice (APIDJ) hosted the event to address racially insensitive messages sent in the Umrath first floor GroupMe Sept. 30. It was designed to create a safe space for Asian and Pacific Islanders (APIs) and other students to discuss the incident and to share their experiences as minority students on campus.

APIDJ leaders opened the event by debriefing the GroupMe incident and the administration’s response to it. Then, the around 30 participants broke up into small groups to write letters to Washington University administrators and discuss shared experiences as API students on campus.

“The goal of this event was essentially to have people symbolically occupy the space that we felt excluded from,” sophomore Taewon Lee, an APIDJ leader involved in organizing the event said.

Students used an identity board to identify common API experiences, like being afraid to embrace their culture, being judged based on racial stereotypes and feeling like an outsider.

“I think the number of people here—both allies and APIs—is a really a testament to APIDJ and their organization at work,” Abby Wong, a senior attending the event, said. “It means a lot to see people here; so, I would say moving forward, there are actions to come. And everything that has happened here will be used in some way to empower and to give a voice to APIs.”

Following the GroupMe controversy, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion attempted to resolve tensions by hosting a workshop entitled “The Racialization of Asians and Asian-Americans” as well as a processing space for students. However, many students remained unimpressed with how the administration handled the issue.

“I think there should be more transparency of what happens afterwards in the incident for the public to know,” senior Helen Li said. “I think many people don’t know that these events actually happened, which is unfortunate because then people assume that [the students who sent the messages] didn’t apologize or they didn’t know. And it’s disappointing for the people who are receiving the impact of the statement.”

Organizing members of APIDJ believe that the University’s bias reporting system, which allows students to anonymously report bias incidents on campus, needs to be improved.

“One thing that I really latched onto was making the process more transparent,” junior Eric Judson said. “They were talking about making the bias reporting system more transparent, like: What happens afterward? How do people learn from their mistakes? and I think that is a really important part of the process.”

In order to prevent future incidents, APIDJ leaders believe that diversity training is a solid first step towards creating a more inclusive campus community.

“One thing that we would like [the administration] to do is include a racial diversity bias type training that would be mandatory for all students during Bear Beginnings because it is getting a overhaul this year with the elimination of preorientation programs,” Lee said.

The students who posted the insensitive comments also attended a restorative circle with Umrath students and Residential Advisors in order to rebuild the community.

“As an RA, I think it is important to understand that these were first-year students,” Li said. “I kind of assume that maybe they grew up in a different area where there wasn’t much diversity…but I believe more in calling someone in and saying, ‘Hey, this hurt me. Here is the impact,’ because that way, someone might be more receptive to listening.”

On a larger scale, APIDJ is advocating for a “Diversity Literacy” class which would engage first-years in discussions about diversity.

“We just spoke with the Brown School API alliance, and they were telling us about how last year Wash. U. has been working on implementing a class that would be mandatory for all freshman to take, and it would be called diversity literacy,” APIDJ member and sophomore Kally Xu said. “They have already made a general program, and they have already gotten people to test through it. Right now, it is on hold because they are not sure what the next chancellor’s priorities are going to be.”

APIDJ leaders hope that the “Occupy Umrath” event will encourage API students to advocate for issues that affect their community.

“One way that students can address diversity issues is to unify and push for this class to be implemented, because that would be more effective than just having one day during Bear Beginnings dedicated to diversity,” Xu said.