In a video posted to Facebook on Friday morning, minority students at Columbia University in New York City directly addressed a spate of racially motivated vandalism in which students with non-Western names on their dorm room name cards had them ripped off during the weeklong lunar new year from late January to early February. It is the second student-made video to be released following the incidents.
Meanwhile, an increasingly impatient student body is calling for the university to expedite its investigation.
The first video, “Say My Name,” made by second-year sociology student Yan Huhe from Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia in northern China, features international students talking about the meanings of their Chinese names and does not explicitly refer to the vandalism. From the students’ facial expressions to the steady crescendo of the music playing in the background, the video’s tone is notably positive, even inspirational. Since its release on Feb. 7, the video has been viewed more than 340,000 times.
In contrast, the second video, made by first-year student Lin Qin and others, does not shy away from addressing the targeted vandalism, or from students’ candid reactions to the incidents, which ranged from shock and surprise, to disappointment, to disgust and repulsion. It tackles questions like “Why should we all care?” and “Why have we been so silent?” and is more forceful in establishing an open dialogue that appears to be sorely needed. Just eight hours after being published, it had received over 1,400 views.
"We Love Columbia, and It's Very Diversity. Protect it." It's been 15 days after the Nametag Incident took place in Columbia, and we still don't see the school admins doing anything in response. Xenophobia and discrimination should NOT be tolerated on this campus. It is time to speak up to protect our beautiful diversity in this very community. James Valentini A huge thank you to Jeff Fan Xiatong Shen, Jinghua Jackie Chen Xinyi Jessy Han who participated in the shooting & post production together and putting up with my endless perfectionist demands lol, and greatest gratitude to our interviewees Selina Zheng, Hai Ge, Shiyan(Sheena) Ma, Huhe Yan, Motong(Alice) Chen, Charlotte (Ai) Pu, Renbo Tu, Irene Bao, Malika Jones, Gloria Christine Tso. You all are amazing <3Posted by Andrea Qin Lin on Thursday, February 16, 2017
Yan, who also appears in Lin’s video, lamented that following the incidents, the first communication he received from an administrator — an email from Melinda Aquino, associate dean of multicultural affairs — was addressed to the university’s Asian student groups rather than to the student body at large — a response he called “very problematic.”
“When discrimination or harassment occurs, on campus or in any environment, it affects everybody,” said Malika Jones from New Jersey, echoing Yan’s sentiments. Jones intimated to Lin that if a similar case happened within the African-American student community, there would be outrage. “It’s time for Asians and Asian-Americans to speak up, too,” Lin said.
One particularly moving part of the video involved a Chinese student’s experience at an all-white high school in Canada, where she was bullied because of her appearance and suffered physical and verbal abuse. “You can’t imagine how much these experiences have impacted me in a negative way,” said the student, Ma Shiyan from Chengdu, capital of southwestern Sichuan province, holding back tears. “I did nothing wrong, and I don’t understand why I’m the one who’s supposed to suffer this.”
When it comes to racial attacks, said Gloria Tso, a political science student from Taipei, “the most dangerous part is that it’s a self-perpetuating cycle, because the more this happens, the more people think it’s OK.” Near the end of the video, Tso blames the “honestly really terrible” political climate for inspiring such brazen acts of xenophobia.
“When you exclude other narratives, your narrative is inherently incomplete, and you can’t learn from it,” said Pu Ai, a student from Beijing who also appeared in Yan’s video, speaking to the importance of diversity and tolerance.
Lin, who studies English and film at Columbia and hails from Hangzhou, capital of eastern China’s Zhejiang province, told Sixth Tone that she has been surprised by the amount of support she’s received from non-Asian students. After the incidents of vandalism, for example, some of her sorority sisters showed solidarity with the Asian student community by posting new door tags with names written in their native scripts, such as Persian.
Despite Columbia’s reputation as one of the more liberal institutions in the United State, there are some who have speculated about whether vandalism targeting East Asian students will affect the university’s ability to attract international applicants in the future.
“I hope that at the end of the day,” said Tso, “international students, American students, American students of Asian background, American students of whatever background — I hope we can all remember at the end of the day why we chose to come here, and the vision we all have for a better world.”
The university’s Office of Multicultural Affairs is currently speaking to students involved in the incidents but has not said when it will release the results of its investigation. “I can’t say I’m satisfied,” said Lin of the university’s sluggish response. “They say they’re investigating, but it’s been 15 days already.” She added, however, that she doesn’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, and that a final judgment of how successfully the case is handled should depend on the outcome of the investigation.
Lin is adamant that blatantly xenophobic actions should not be tolerated or forgotten, but she’s also hopeful for the future: “I’m clinging to the possibility that this is a lesson from which we can learn,” she said.
(Header image: The Columbia University library is visible behind the ‘Alma Mater’ sculpture, New York, April 19, 2006. Pietro Scozzari/IC)