Dear Liberal Arts Undergraduates:
Once again, our nation has been rocked by news of a shocking act of racialized violence—this time in Atlanta, Georgia, where a gunman took the lives of eight people, including six women of Asian descent. Whatever the assailant’s motivations, this incident adds to rising alarm about attacks targeting Asians and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in our country—incidents that have grown exponentially during the pandemic and have been fueled largely by reckless discourse that has blamed people of Asian descent for the COVID-19 outbreak. This terrorism has been notably gendered, too; according to the Stop AAPI National Report, nearly 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents, in which Asian American women are more than twice as likely to be targeted as men, have been reported since the pandemic began last year. Another study from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reports that anti-Asian hate crimes in major U.S. cities increased nearly 150 percent in 2020, while a survey conducted by Pew Research Center indicates that 31 percent of Asian Americans report having experienced racial slurs, racist jokes, or similar episodes of “othering” since the start of the pandemic.
Sadly, this reflects the nation’s long history of anti-Asian vitriol and violence, which has framed people of Asian descent as “anti-citizens” against whom the U.S. republic must defend itself—even as the United States itself engaged in military conquest in the Pacific. This history includes the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese American internment during World War II, and similar moments of state-sanctioned anti-Asian violence in the twentieth century.
Although our college stands with students, faculty, and staff of Asian ancestry in our community, I recognize that expressions of solidarity—while important—can feel inadequate as a response in times like these. However, one of the best things we can do as Liberal Arts educators, practitioners, students, and fellow travelers is magnify our efforts to make current and future Penn Staters more knowledgeable about the complex historical fissures in our society and arm ourselves, and others, with the information, perspectives, and interpretive skills that will make us collectively better prepared for our roles as critically informed members of, and compassionate citizens in, a global community. Toward that end, our college is supporting University-wide efforts to explore equity-centered changes to the undergraduate curriculum. I look to members of our college to champion these changes and other transformative actions, as well.
As dean, I want to assure you in the meantime that I remain committed to employing all the mechanisms available to foster an equitable and inclusive environment in which all members of our college are free from threats and intimidation based on racial/ethnic/national, gender, sexual, religious, or other social identities. If you or anyone you know is in need of support in processing current events, I urge you to contact the University’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services or Multicultural Resource Center for students, or the University’s Employee Assistance Program for faculty and staff. International students and faculty can also reach out to Penn State Global Programs for additional resources and support. Lastly, I would encourage any Penn State student, employee, or visitor who has been a victim of, or witness to, harassment, physical assault, or terroristic threat to consult Penn State Police’s Victim Resource Services.
Please be safe and be well.
Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts
Professor of African American Studies