In the wake of last week’s Virginia Tech shootings, universities around the country are asking whether they are prepared for a similar occurrence – and the Asian-American community is wondering how the country will treat them as a result.
Last Monday, Korean-American student Seung-Hui Cho went on a shooting spree on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, that left 27 students and five faculty members dead. Altough Cho had a long history of mental illness when he commited his crime, members of the Asian-American community fear that the focus on his nationality – rather then his mental illness – will cause a public backlash against Asian Americans.
In response, Asian-American students at UCSB are hosting a panel with UCSB faculty to discuss the perceptions of Asian-Americans post-Virginia Tech tonight at the SB Harbor Room in the UCen from 6 to 8 p.m.
Pablo Kim, head of the UCSB chapter of the Korean-American Coalition, is one of the main organizers of the event and said he hopes tonight’s panel will attract many non-Asians.
“The purpose of this event is to educate people about the incorrect perception of Asian Americans, and this discussion is aimed primarily to the non-Asian community,” Kim said. “The reactions Asians are having toward the shootings is that Cho was mentally ill, but non-Asians might bring into account Cho’s nationality.”
Kim hopes the discussion will help prevent negative reactions to the Asian community, although he said he has already felt such ridicule.
“People have given me nasty looks at least a couple of times since the shootings occurred,” Kim said.
One of the evening’s panelist is Asian American Studies Professor Diane Fujino, who said she will speak about the reaction in the Asian-American community.
“Asians, particularly the older Korean community, are afraid that this will harm people’s perception of them as a ‘model minority,'” Fujino said.
Fujino is also afraid of the effects this will have on all Asians, not just Koreans, beacause Americans tend to mix all Asians into a single category.
“Americans tend to conflate Asians into a single ‘other,’ and this case is receiving extra media attention because it was perpetrated by an Asian,” Fujino said.
On a national level, this week the Senate is discussing ways to prevent similar tragedies by evaluating mental health resources, security and communications infrastructure on college campuses. As for UCSB, the campus is currently evaluating its own emergency prodedures as a result of the event, said UCPD Community Relations Officer Matt Bowman.
Recently, a campuswide e-mail alert was sent out to test the Emergency Notification Listserv, a system used to inform students, faculty and staff of an emergency.
Bowman said the test was not a response to the Virgina Tech shootings. However, the listserv presumably would be used in the event of a similar occurance, preventing what some say was a failing of the Virginia Tech officials who did not warn the campus until over two hours after the first shootings occurred.
“The [e-mail notification] system has always been in place, and it is just a coincidence that the periodic test of the system was scheduled the same week as the shootings,” Bowman said.
Bowman said that UCSB has significant measures in place to handle many types of emergencies.
“There are plans and resources avaible to handle any emergency,” Bowman said. “What an event like Virginia Tech does is serve as a reality check, we learn from it and evaluate our protocols on a case by case basis.”
Bowman also said it is important for students to be aware of their surroundings, protect themselves and report any suspicious activity.
“The first thing you want to do is make sure you are safe if you feel you are in phsyical danger. Get out of the building, get out of a window, whatever it takes to get yourself to a safe location,” Bowman said. “Report any suspicious activity after you make sure you are out of harm’s way.”