‘We deserve to be heard’: APIDJ demands response from WU in letter-writing campaign
Asian and Pacific Islanders Demanding Justice (APIDJ) delivered letters to Washington University administrators requesting administrative support and accountability earlier this month.
Letters were delivered to eight administrators across campus, including Chancellor-elect Martin and Provost Holden Thorp. In addition to delivering the letters, APIDJ requested meetings with each of the recipients.
In the official campaign letter, APIDJ wrote that they want to see Washington University “implement more rigorous racial bias training for incoming freshmen” and “be more transparent about reporting bias.” Their campaign message is “we belong here, we deserve to be heard, and we will not be quiet until real, tangible change is made.”
The letters were written during APIDJ’s Occupy Umrath event last semester, which addressed racially insensitive messages sent in an Umrath floor GroupMe.
“This was just a follow-up to what we did last semester…. just to make sure that Wash. U., in response to everything that happened with Occupy Umrath, implements some kind of robust racial bias policy,” APIDJ founder and junior Erica Wei said. “And that hopefully the RA trainings are equipping them to properly handle situations like this, going through the nitty-gritty to make sure that Wash. U. is handling it correctly and making sure that POC students on campus are not being disregarded and disrespected.”
Thorp said that he remembers how “very painful” the Umrath incident was.
“And I can understand why they are concerned in the wake of that, but I also think that the development of changes in the culture for Asian and Asian American students in higher education is something that hasn’t gotten enough attention, and I’m very aware of that so I’m not surprised that they’re wanting to talk about things,” Thorp said.
Thorp and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Lori White will meet with members of APIDJ May 1.
“What I want to do is hear from them. It’ll be their meeting to set the agenda. My guess is they’ll want to go over their letter and explain to me more about their experience and why it’s important,” Thorp said. “I certainly agree that addressing some of the challenges we have in the climate for our Asian and Pacific Islander students is a very important thing and something that we need to put more attention on. I’m looking forward to hearing from them about where our efforts can be more effective and also hearing from them about their experience.”
According to Wei, the purpose of their letters is to launch APIDJ’s “Disaggregated Data” campaign.
“We’re asking Wash. U. to disaggregate the racial Asian categories into ethnicities so that Wash. U. can kind of figure out who is here on campus, because right now, Wash. U. is pretty East Asian dominant and a lot of other ethnic groups within the Asian racial category are underrepresented,” Wei said. “…So Wash. U. disaggregating the data and acknowledging that will hopefully help inform the kind of policies that they create on campus, or the infrastructure. Certain students need certain support, and currently with the Asian category, this huge category, they are not seeing any of that; it’s concealed.”
Wei said that she hopes the campaign will increase the University’s Southeast Asian student population.
“Hopefully it would change people’s thinking of who Asian people are just in general – like we come from completely different places of the world, we have really different immigration histories in the U.S., and I think with that understanding, hopefully students on campus can be more politically aware and engaged,” Wei said.
For Wei, the lack of political engagement sometimes seen on campus is an issue broader than APIDJ.
“I think it’s important to go back to our roots and understand that Asian American is, in its birth, a political label that was used for organizing,” Wei said. “I feel like that whole history is concealed and just even with Asian American Studies not being on campus. For Wash. U., to not provide a whole department for a large group of students on campus is not allowing students on campus to learn about their history. And growing up, we also didn’t learn about our history, and I think that very much contributes to the apolitical phenomenon that we see in the Asian American community.”
APIDJ is also partnering with Chinese Students Association (CSA) and the Taiwanese Student Organization (TSO) to hold an event bringing awareness to a Costco development project in the Third Ward April 28.
The project, first proposed in 2017, would displace several local businesses including Tai Ke. Critics of the proposal are worried about how the development will affect St. Louis’s Chinatown community.
“This event, the purpose of it is to educate the general Wash. U. body about what’s going on outside the community and at Olive…. Recently there’s been a development that there was a mistake in calculations in terms of the benefits that this Costco would bring to the area,” member of CSA and sophomore Annie Zhao said. “So the plan is sort of being tabled again and people are talking about it once more, and we thought it would be a really good idea in this period of limbo to bring everything to light and to get people involved.”
At the event, Professor in the Brown School of Social Work Molly Metzger will discuss what the proposal will look like and its potential effects on local businesses. A second speaker will discuss the history of Chinatown in St. Louis.
“APIDJ will be heading the second half with the discussion and workshop on what getting involved can look like, and we’ll have a lot of fun interactive bits within the event so people can really get involved and all the information will sort of stick more easily in their hands,” Zhao said.
Zhao said that she believes students have a “unique position” in community issues and is optimistic about how many students will engage in the event.
“We are a little bit removed, but at the same time, with this specific issue, a lot of people are very close with the restaurants themselves,” Zhao said. “I know people who personally talk to the owners and people even who have grown up around the area would say that I think the restaurants, businesses, and homes on Olive that are being affected have a very special place in their own hearts. I know that sounds very cheesy but I think it’s true.”
Member of TSO and senior Annabel Shu said that although the event targets the Asian community, they hope everyone gets involved as the proposal will affect many different businesses.
“I think personally, I’d like to see more than just the Asian American students come just because, I think honestly speaking, if you think about the context of the event and everything that’s happened, it’s more than just ‘Oh this group is being affected,’” Shu said. “I think, once again, the Third Ward is being affected and that is a historically black community, but also just the problem of gentrification in general has been pretty prominent in St. Louis. And for me personally, I think people should care about the community.”
The event will also provide attendees information on how they can get more involved in opposing the proposal.
“Personally I think if this event even causes one or two or three people to really become more interested and get more involved, I would consider that a success, just because that’s one more person that’s being educated, that’s one more person who’s driven to actively organize within the community,” Zhao said.