On March 16, during UC Santa Barbara’s winter quarter, eight people were killed in a series of shootings targeting Asian spas in Atlanta, Georgia. The shootings followed an over 150% increase of hate crimes against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic that has left their communities in states of outrage and grief.
After the shooting, third-year biopsychology major Pauline Yang and third-year biopsychology major Amy Tran were on the phone together, watching the subsequent news coverage. Yang spoke to Tran about her fears and frustrations following months of increased bigotry toward the Asian community.
“I saw a video of this Cantonese grandma in San Francisco,” Yang said. “She was hurt and crying in the video, and when I heard her cry — that reminded me of my own mother.”
“I spent an hour after watching that video just crying to myself, and I could hear all these kids in I.V. partying it up for St. Patrick’s Day,” she continued. “I was just like, ‘What the hell!’ I couldn’t focus on finals with everything going on.”
Determined to take initiative and respond to the mass shooting, Yang and Tran looked at different ways to support Asian and Asian American communities at UCSB.
The two are both on the board of UCSB’s Filipinx Association for Health Careers (FAHC), and with the help of the association’s president and third-year pharmacology major Shiela Mae Valerio, the group organized a GoFundMe titled “UCSB Asian Coalition Fundraiser 2021.” Since the GoFundMe was published on April 25, the fundraiser has raised $1,541 — $41 more than the original goal of $1,500. Donations were split among three organizations: Act To Change, the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
While Yang, Tran and Valerio knew they would find support within their own organization to carry out their goal, they wanted to create something bigger outside of hosting the fundraiser. What started as a project intended just for FAHC grew to become the newly founded UCSB Asian Coalition as the three reached out to other Asian-focused organizations on campus to increase student involvement and promote power in unity.
“We really wanted to push our efforts to something more meaningful. We thought about the impact we could make with this project,” Valerio said.
As the number of organizations wanting to participate in the steadily growing movement increased, the UCSB Asian Coalition was established with the intention of advocating for healing and unity within these communities.
The coalition is comprised of Asian or Asian American groups on campus who are working to support those affected by anti-Asian discrimination and raise awareness for the community, according to its Instagram page. Groups associated with the coalition include over 18 organizations, including the Asian Resource Center, Kapatirang Pilipino, Nikkei Student Union and Korean American Student Association.
“One of the main reasons we wanted to bring in other student orgs was because as Asian students on campus, there’s not much representation for us,” Tran said. “Student organizations have always been used as a way to carve space for us. We’ve always had to make our own space rather than [having] the university provide space for us. So, it was important for all of the Asian-interest orgs to be involved.”
Tran said the coalition was working to dismantle the model minority myth — an idea that generalizes all Asian Americans into a quiet and law-abiding group of highly successful individuals — which is used as a wedge to pit them against other cultural and racial groups.
“There’s this stereotype against Asian people: ‘Asian people are compliant, they’re not gonna do anything, they’re the silent minority.’ It was just really important for all of us to come together and show, like, ‘No,’” she said. “It was so empowering standing with all the other orgs involved and just seeing how much other people cared.”
Along with the fundraiser, the group also sought to create a space for students to feel safe and heard. According to Tran, it seemed like students were just ‘screaming into a void’ on social media, and those outside of the Asian community weren’t really listening. So far, the coalition has organized two town halls to allow Asian American students to meet with others and talk about collective struggles.
The first town hall, held on April 16, invited students to share their thoughts and experiences on the rise of anti-Asian hate.
“So many students felt like their feelings were more valid [after the town hall], and it was nice for them to know that they weren’t alone in feeling what they were feeling in regards to being Asian and being Asian in this community and in this world,” Yang said. “We were all being very personal with each other and very willing to let each other in to provide that love and support that we all deserve.”
Yang noted a lack of active support from her professors and the university itself in response to numerous anti-Asian hate crimes across the country; she stated that none of her professors reached out to offer support despite this being a tragic time for many students, especially with these major crimes taking place during finals season. However, with the group’s second town hall on May 7, Yang said that more professors attended with the intent of learning how to improve and help their students.
In holding the university accountable in how it responds to the needs of the Asian community on campus, Yang said the coalition’s next steps include making a list of demands and asking the school to match the donations made from the fundraiser. They also aim to conduct more town halls in the future.
Approaching the upcoming school year, the coalition’s plans for in-person activities remain uncertain. They do, however, plan to continue supporting Asian communities by promoting events that associated organizations may have, Yang said. For collaborative events within the coalition, they plan to meet again with the coalition’s organizations and discuss what is within each group’s capacity
“Everyone was so involved, and I’m so thankful and appreciative for everyone who helped out,” Tran said, noting that this was a collective effort with the group working together to make this all happen. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”
The group strives to continue promoting activism and unity among their communities by increasing visibility on campus.
“We hold power as students. You’re allowed to do these things. Take your space,” Tran said.