Campus community responds to GroupMe controversy

Aiden Blinn | News Editor

The staff of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori White responded to the Umrath Hall floor GroupMe controversy in separate statements emailed to the student body Oct. 3 and 4, respectively.

The GroupMe messages, sent in the Umrath Hall first floor group Sept. 30, were viewed by many as insensitive toward Asian and Asian-American students. Junior Han Ju Seo distributed screenshots of the conversation on social media, prompting student backlash to their content and apologies from the senders.

In their statements, White and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) staff emphasized that the messages ran counter to Washington University’s values.

“The language was offensive and counter to our community values of diversity and inclusion, and conveyed the hurtful message that not all students are welcome at Washington University,” White wrote.

The CDI staff’s email reiterated this sentiment and described the content of the messages as negative stereotyping of Asian and Asian-American students.

“We recognize the messages can easily be interpreted as portraying Asian and Asian-Americans as invaders and are a characterization of Asian people as forever foreign and generally not welcome in our community,” the CDI staff wrote. “These messages are inconsistent with the University’s goal of creating an inclusive and diverse environment and are just one example of the broader bias and oppression that Asian and Asian-American students experience.”

The CDI staff also called upon the Washington University community to learn from and prevent similar situations to the GroupMe incident.

“The work of creating a different reality for our campus is incumbent upon all of us to fulfill. We want our community to learn from incidents like this, and to be better in the future—that should always be our collective goal,” the email read. “Diversity, inclusion, and equity should be present in our daily actions and not just statements, conversations, and dialogue.”

Student reactions to the GroupMe messages have been predominantly negative, and as mentioned in the CDI’s email, some view the messages as part of a recurring theme on campus.

“This response was not necessarily to a specific incident, but this incident was more like a tipping point for more Asian folks on campus, because it’s sort of a reflection of all the marginalization we’ve felt,” sophomore and Asians and Pacific Islanders Demanding Justice (APIDJ) member Jessica Yu said.

APIDJ, a newly formed organization centered around Asian and Pacific Islander-specific issues, plans to address the GroupMe controversy in an event in Umrath Hall Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. According to Yu, the event, called Occupy Umrath, is an opportunity for students to unite and discuss the status of Asian and Pacific Islander students on campus.

“Occupy Umrath is more so to provide a space for API students on campus to physically take up space because we don’t take space often—Asian-Americans are often seen as submissive,” Yu said. “We also want a space where we can start to get API folks’ voices heard on campus.”

Yu says that she believes the University as a whole does not recognize the diversity within the Asian-American student population.

“I just think that the University doesn’t always acknowledge that there are Asian-Americans on campus that may not necessarily fit that image of being from very wealthy backgrounds, being from very successful families—there are a lot of immigrant families on campus, there are a lot of low-income students who are Asian who are not recognized on campus.” Yu said.

Yu has noticed positive responses to Occupy Umrath from a range of student groups and feels that the incident extends beyond the Asian and Pacific Islander community.

“It’s not just API folks, and I think that’s important because it shows that we’re not left alone in this case, and also it shows that other groups on campus have had similar experiences and feel this discontent with the University,” Yu said.

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