During the pandemic, my wife and I often take extended walks around our neighborhood. During one particular walk, we waved to a man and his daughter (must have been around 4 or 5 years old) playing in front of their house, and the man returned the gesture. Immediately after this exchange, his daughter said to him, loud enough for my wife and I to hear, “Daddy, they have the virus!” Flustered, the man quickly ushered her back into the house.
My wife and I looked at each other and tried to make sense of what had just occurred. We readily recognized that there was no malice in the child’s comment, and that there were multiple reasonable explanations for why she said what she said; but the sting we felt at the moment (and the father’s lack of any attempt at repair) was also very real. That is, regardless of what the intent was, the psychological impact was that we were dehumanized, labeled as a virus simply based on our visible identity as Asians.
So far in the pandemic, my immediate family has been fortunate enough not to experience any blatant acts of racism. But I have extended family, friends, colleagues, and students who have not been so fortunate. If you are an Asian or Asian American reading this blog, chances are that you can guess what these acts might look or sound like, such as people yelling “Go back to China” and drivers shouting “coronavirus” out of their car window. These are the pains of my circle of Asians and Asian Americans. Nationally, there has been a dramatic spike in the number of race-based incidents reported by Asians and Asian Americans (see STOP AAPI HATE). The mass shooting in Georgia on March 16, 2021 that claimed 8 lives, majority of whom were of Asian descent, has deeply grieved and angered the Asian and Asian American community. In addition to the mass shooting, other attacks on Asian and Asian American individuals in recent weeks and months have received media attention, including a recent brutal attack on a local teacher that has shaken my community in Bothell, Washington. Moreover, even if one does not experience racial discrimination directly, the secondary or vicarious trauma of hearing about or seeing such experiences (e.g., on social media) of others can also be quite impactful.
In particular, as faculty teaching undergraduate students at a Christian institution, I am heartbroken to hear stories from my Asian and Asian American students about their experiences of racial discrimination during the pandemic and/or their vicarious trauma due to exposure to news about anti-Asian racism. Given this reality, how should faculty respond? Students often choose to attend Christian colleges and universities based on the strong relationships that are possible with faculty; therefore, it behooves us to provide Christ-like love to our Asian and Asian American students, as they navigate a pandemic world that is filled with hurtful messaging and acts against their own community. Through our collective efforts as faculty, I hope that we can affirm our Asian and Asian American students as image bearers of God (Genesis 1:27), recognize them as an integral part of our learning communities who require a particular type of attention during this time (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), join in their grieving (Romans 12:15), and ultimately point students to the real hope that the diversity of God’s family will be fully realized one day (Revelation 7:9-10).
Based on my experiences as faculty in the past year but also drawing from my own scholarship, I would like to share some initial thoughts about how faculty can effectively support Asian and Asian American students during this challenging time. I am hoping that you will also contribute your experiences and ideas.
1. DO intentionally reach out to your Asian and Asian American students.
To be clear, this does not mean tokenizing the students and automatically assuming that they are all processing the current pandemic and racialized experiences of Asian Americans in the same way. Instead, it means that faculty should: be knowledgeable about what is going on in our country and around the world in terms of anti-Asian racism; find a way to clearly name the evil of xenophobia, racism, and prejudice; and allow individual and collective student voices to be heard on this topic. One way I have tried to do this is to open the door to the conversation by bringing up current events such as the racist attack in Seattle with the larger class, and then allow individual students to connect with me over Zoom chat or email on how they are processing the information. I have also utilized journaling exercises to gauge students’ emotional and cognitive stress around this topic and have followed up with students.
2. DON’T default to “Christianese” when expressing support for Asian and Asian American students.
Recognize that sometimes, too much or too quick theologizing, however well-intended, can come across to the student as yet another form of microaggression. My SPU colleague Dana Kendall, student Elizabeth Bau, and I recently published an article describing the various types of racial microaggressions students of color might experience on Christian campuses.1
These microaggressions tend to be well-intended messages reflecting (what the perpetrator believes to be) Christian principles, but the impact can be invalidating or insulting for students of color. For example, when a faculty member responds with an encouragement to show grace and forgiveness in response to a student sharing about their racialized experience, it can have the unintended consequence of dismissing or minimizing the impact of racism, especially if the student has not had a chance to adequately process the hurt and anger. As Christian faculty, responding promptly with Christianese to student experiences might be tempting, but I encourage faculty to instead be deliberate about listening and connecting with the experiences of Asian and Asian American students during this pandemic
3. DO monitor your own biases and stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans.
A common stereotype of Asian Americans is that they are highly successful and hard working. Also implied in this stereotype is that Asian Americans do not experience as many barriers to their success (i.e., racism) compared to other racial minority groups. 2
This model minority stereotype, although it might appear positive, can also affect how individuals and communities might respond to the racialized experiences of Asian American students. For example, just because an Asian American student fits one component of the model minority stereotype (e.g., academically successful) does not mean that they experience fewer barriers to their success, such as racial discrimination. Pay attention to how you might have unintentionally allowed these positive stereotypes to affect your engagement with Asian and Asian American students during the pandemic. For more perspectives on how the model minority stereotype might hinder conversations about anti-Asian racism, see this recent Op-Ed that I wrote.
4. DON’T over-rely on the “typical” resources we turn to as faculty for supporting Asian and Asian American students, such as the university counseling center.
This seems like a rather sacrilegious thing to say as a counseling psychologist who believes in the importance of professional counseling for everyone, so let me provide some clarification on what I mean. In psychological research, it is widely accepted that Asian American college students tend to underuse psychological services.3
My own line of research has identified several reasons (e.g., cultural emphasis on emotional restraint) for why some Western forms of psychological interventions might not be as attractive for Asian American college students. 4
As such, it might be shortsighted for a faculty member to assume that all Asian and Asian American students will find the university counseling center beneficial for coping with pandemic stress. Instead, do the hard work as faculty and evaluate the effectiveness of the resources that you are recommending to Asian and Asian American students during this time, and when referring students to the counseling center, consider pairing the referral with additional campus resources. Some promising resources might be offices focused specifically on supporting students of color (e.g., multicultural programming) and campus ministries.
5. DO partner with campus ministries.
During the beginning of the pandemic when anti-Asian racism was especially pronounced, a few faculty from my academic unit (School of Psychology, Family, and Community, or SPFC) at Seattle Pacific University partnered with University Ministries to host a drop-in Zoom session for Asian and Asian American students. While this session was attended by a small group of students, it was a valuable opportunity for them to have a safe space where they could process their emotions and experiences against the backdrop of national and global events impacting individuals of Asian background. It was especially effective to have our university Chaplain present to offer spiritual care, alongside the counseling/clinical care provided by the SPFC faculty who were present. Students who attended were also able to connect with each other and exchange contact information, which allowed them to further connect outside of the support session to provide each other with peer mentoring and emotional support.
6. DON’T neglect to write (and sign) statements and disseminate resources (like this one!).
For example, in SPFC, we put together a statement strongly condemning anti-Asian violence, along with resources for both allies and Asian American individuals. I also encourage faculty to sign statements such as this from the Asian American Christian Collaborative to show solidarity with Asian and Asian American individuals.
- Paul Youngbin Kim, Dana L. Kendall, and Katharine E. Bau, “Racial Microaggressions on Christian Campuses: Instrument Development and Exploratory Factor Analysis,” Christian Higher Education (2021): 1-16.
- Hyung Chol Yoo, Kimberly S. Burrola, and Michael F. Steger, “A Preliminary Report on a New Measure: Internalization of the Model Minority Myth Measure (IM-4) and Its Psychological Correlates among Asian American College Students,” Journal of Counseling Psychology 57 no.1 (2010): 114–127.
- Brandt Kam, Hadrian Mendoza, and Akihiko Masuda, “Mental Health Help-Seeking Experience and Attitudes in Latina/o American, Asian American, Black American, and White American College Students,” International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling 41 (2019): 492–508.
- Paul Youngbin Kim, Dana L. Kendall, and Elizabeth S. Chang, “Emotional Self-Control, Interpersonal Shame, and Racism as Predictors of Help-Seeking Attitudes among Asian Americans: An Application of the Intrapersonal–interpersonal-Sociocultural Framework,” Asian American Journal of Psychology 7 no.1 (2016): 15–24.