Investigating racism close to home

Photo courtesy of Ethan Worlow

Mourning, fear, stress, anger, skepticism, hope: the aftermath of the spa shootings in Atlanta and Woodstock last Tuesday provoked diverse responses in the Tech student body.

Of the eight victims killed, six were of Asian descent. Regardless of the assailant’s stated motive, the event devastated members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

The violence exploded just blocks from campus. Many students say national conversation about racism and hate crimes highlighted preexistent issues within the Institute.

“Yesterday’s senseless acts of violence in metro Atlanta are heartbreaking and incomprehensible. Together with recent reports about increased violent acts against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the country, they raise deeply concerning questions about racism in our country.

Violence against Asian Americans is violence against us all,” wrote President Ángel Cabrera in an email response to the shootings last Wednesday.

“There is much we can do to combat racism. I urge us to use these events to come together, support all members of our community, and engage in action to eradicate racism and hate from our community.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, hate crimes are defined as “a criminal offense that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the perpetrator’s bias against the victim(s) based on their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.” Hate crimes continue to plague college campuses, with more than 900 individual instances reported in 2017. The most reported bias was race.

This week, students from various facets of campus have voiced that racism remains prevalent even within an ethnically and racially diverse student body.

Students shared experiences both online across social media outlets and in interviews with the Technique. “Even though Georgia Tech is one of the most diverse places I have ever stepped foot on, it is not diverse enough,” said Devianni Connor, second-year MGT.

“As a person who is both Black and Asian, I shared my sentiments about the sickening racism and violence against both Black and Asian people happening today. I shared … how frustrated and heartbroken I am with how there’s not only overt racism from whites against BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] but even within the BIPOC community itself (ie: colorism, stereotypes, etc).”

Residence halls

On Feb. 4, an email was sent to residents of the North Avenue East apartment complex that began, “We wanted to share with you that an incident occurred a few days ago outside an apartment in your community that we have reason to believe may be connected to the race of the individuals who live in the apartment.”

According to a tweet by SGA representative Kelly O’Neal, the incident in question involved bananas hung outside the door of an on-campus apartment.

“Bananas were hung outside the door of an on-campus apartment in what is suspected to have been a racially-motivated bias incident earlier this week,” O’Neal said.

She was informed of this by Kasey Helton, VP of Campus Services, who declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

Historically, bananas have been tied to racial epithets against the African American community.

Four years ago, Temple University made headlines when a banana was left on the door handle of a Black student’s apartment, prompting a school-wide statement.

In 2017, the F.B.I. was called upon to investigate bananas with racially descriptive messages hung around the campus of American University in Washington D.C.

In the weeks following the North Avenue Incident, the Tech Housing department was unable to comment on whether the Office of Student Integrity was yet involved or if a suspect was identified.

However, communication from Jenny Cotton, Director of Housing and Residence Life, did maintain that the incident had the potential to be more than a prank between friends.

“While we understand that friends and roommates often play pranks on each other, when those pranks are in public or are harmful in nature, either physically or emotionally, we must take action in order to protect the integrity of the entire community,” wrote Cotton in an email about the incident in February.

“If a resident reports an incident with racial connotations, the primary concern is supporting the residents who were affected by the incident … Any incident that may be interpreted as racially motivated or as racial targeting is reported to Georgia Tech Police to be investigated fully. Pending the outcome of the investigation, conduct or, if warranted, criminal charges may be filed,” Cotton wrote. The Technique reached out to GT Housing for comment again this month and was told on March 23 that no specifics could be shared on the still active investigation. No administration update has addressed hall residents or the larger campus community on the incident. RAs in the building remain unsure of how the situation resolved.

“I’m disgusted to see things like this happening at GT, and I hope to see the admin take swift action to condemn acts such as this,” O’Neal tweeted.

Public areas

Multiple students on Georgia Tech’s subreddit in the past few days have voiced warnings to others about safety and awareness of harassment targeted towards Asians and Asian Americans on campus and in the surrounding areas.

EuFeng Chow, a second year graduate student studying cybersecurity, shared such an incident. Last Saturday afternoon, Chow left after a workout at the CRC, when someone yelled “F—k you, yellow dog,” at him as he walked down the sidewalk.

“I was on the phone with my friend and … a white Kia came over at the sidewalk. The guy on the passenger side yelled at me, I suppose. I mean, I’m assuming he’s yelling at me because nobody is around,” Chow said. He even checked security footage with GTPD to confirm the event and to get the story straight. It was not officially determined, but Chow guessed the man yelling was not a student who yelled the racial slur.

“You, the Americans, don’t really use the term dog to insult people, but maybe he just came up with the word in his head. I don’t know. That was kind of weird, a little bit offensive, but I didn’t particularly get mad.”

When telling the story, Chow pulled out a card showing the crime report taken by GTPD, pepper spray, a flashlight and pocket knife that he always carries around.

“Already I’ve been seeing people saying they feel unsafe. And I tried to share my story to tell people ‘get prepared.’ And that’s the world we’re dealing with, get prepared. Don’t get scared, get prepared.”

On Thursday, a GTPD officer contacted Chow to inform him that they had located the owner of the Kia. The person who instigated the verbal harassment studies at another university. The officer did not relay which university, but Chow was informed that “the officer filed a report to their dean’s office” for handling any further disciplinary action.

Chow, an international student from Hong Kong, aims to use his experiences to prepare and educate others in the Chinese community at Tech. He works in the Cyber Forensics Innovation Lab, which he describes as a very diverse community of students. His peers in the lab contrast with his perception of the Chinese community at Tech, where he’s witnessed discrimination against other students of color, especially against Black students.

“Sometimes I don’t want to admit that there’s systematic racism against Asians. Maybe that’s more about my subjective feeling … I want to lay low sometimes. I don’t want to get involved. And also, I don’t want to feel like America hates you,” he said.

Chow said that the incident, beyond normal Atlanta crime concerns, did not discourage him from walking around campus in the future. However, he plans to use this story as an opportunity to “focus more about the racism within my community and not only racism, the entire culture. I will try to influence people as many people as possible.”

Student orgs.

In the face of tragic breaking news, Tech students find solace in a multicultural community or other student organizations. However, these same student organizations often highlight systemic disparities that occur between student groups on campus. Angel Hsieh, second-year MGT, found her community on campus through Delta Phi Lambda (DPhiL), an Asian interest sorority at Tech.

“Coming to college, something that was really important to me was my Asian heritage, because it was something that I definitely struggled with throughout my middle school years,” Hsieh said. “[DPhiL] is not Asian-exclusive, but it is Asian-interest, so as a result, pretty much all of our members are of Asian descent. It’s been really cool to learn about different cultures within the Asian community outside of my own, and then also it does help me be more proud of my heritage and to embrace
it more.”

In her involvement in her sorority as well as GUIDE, Greeks United in Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, Hsieh learned of eye-opening instances of discrimination against people of color in Greek Life at Tech, even when racism has only minimally impacted her own college experiences.

According to Hsieh, multicultural sororities and historically black sororities and fraternities are discounted on campus. “They’re really not seen as important as the ones with houses,” she said. “It’s kind of like, because we don’t have a house and we’re culturally based, it’s not real Greek life. And that can be kind of frustrating sometimes.”

Within the Collegiate Panhellenic Council (CPC) and Interfraternity Council (IFC), known on campus as social Greek organizations, Hsieh noted how members will pay thousands of dollars to be a part of a house, which is already prohibitive to many students. On top of that, “legacy” systems often discourage first generation students or students of color from even considering the organizations.

“Part of recruitment, part of Greek life, and even honestly going to college, part of that is the fact that ‘are you at legacy or not,’” Hsieh said. “When a lot of minorities don’t have parents who have backgrounds with college education, especially not college education in the States, especially when they’re immigrants…that almost sets them up for failure. It makes it more difficult. It makes it more obvious that a minority is an ‘other,’ and unless you’re white, you’re other.”

Devianni Connor has found a lack of representation at the Institute, both in the classroom and in multicultural organizations. As someone who often finds herself as the only woman of color in many of her STEM classes, Connor calls this missing diversity “subtle racism.” She calls for the administration to not only increase its admission rates of Black students, but to create a biracial or multiracial organization to provide a space to tackle difficult issues that stem from this identity.

“It’s hard for me to just solely relate to one aspect of my identity. I sometimes feel excluded from each side of my race because there’s parts where I relate with both of them, and people expect you to only relate to one,” Connor shared.

“It’s a complicated concept to explain, but I have experienced that sense of misunderstanding and confusion of my identity for all my life.” She also thinks that support is lacking for students arriving at Tech as a first-generation college student. Connor described difficulties in relating to peers, when she comes from a poor, single mother household.

“I know that many first-gen students experience many of the same hardships and backgrounds, and it would be wonderful if there was a strong community for us to form. It’s nice to know that we are not alone in our life story!”

Close to home

Chloe Lee, fourth year NEUR, was at her home five minutes away from Highway 92 in Woodstock, when her mom called to tell her that there had been a shooting nearby.

Her mom was at work at her family’s business, a liquor store also located in the area. At the time, they didn’t know if the shooter was targeting other Asian-owned businesses along with the massage parlor, but her mom told her to be careful as the shooter wasn’t yet caught.

“At the time I didn’t know how long ago the shooting had happened so I was really nervous about if any of us were in danger, especially because all I knew at the time was it was an Asian-owned business,” Lee shared.

“I feel like if it was a different year it wouldn’t be a thought that would have crossed my mind, but because of the recent rise in violent trends against Asian people, it became one of the first thoughts that I had.” Lee lives with her family in what she considers a “very conservative area,” a suburb about 30 miles from Midtown, and commutes to Tech as needed.

“Something that my mom and I talked about last night, she offhandedly was like, ‘you can’t really go anywhere by yourself anymore,’” Lee said. “Although I haven’t had any issues in the past, I don’t know what that’ll look like now.”

She mentioned that if she goes to the grocery store, she would likely find someone to go with her. She said she is “a little more nervous” about taking trips to campus.

Back at school, many students, administration members, and organizations vocally addressed the shooting and supported the AAPI community at Tech. Some organizations issued an official statement, while others circulated learning resources, personal experiences or GoFundMe pages for the victim’s families. A group of about two dozen Tech students attended a solidarity march together on Saturday, March 20. They started walking with the March Against Hate in Woodruff Park, then joined another rally at Liberty Plaza. Students carried signs with slogans and hashtags such as #StopAsianHate and #RacismIsAVirus.

“I appreciate that there has been an acknowledgement of the issues that have currently become prevalent, and now that there is attention being called to the issue. I know that a lot of Asian people like myself included have been talking about their own personal experiences with racism, mostly in the form of microaggressions,” Lee said.

Despite the hope she felt hearing this acknowledgement, she did express skepticism that many of the postings on social media could come across as disingenuous, even performative, drawing parallels to social media activism with the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer.

“I feel like the best thing for people to do is to actually listen to us whenever we talk about things we’ve been through,” said Lee. “I think what most people can do moving forward is to acknowledge that there are problems, and to try, at the very least, to face it on an individual level.”

For students who lack a community in which to feel heard, Tech does provide resources through the Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (IDEI) department. The department, which houses multiple offices, offers not only academic resources but also counseling services, advisement and educational diversity and bias workshops. Their services are open to all but are targeted at students of color.

Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Archie Ervin shared that, “Beginning last summer [after George Floyd’s murder and ensuing protests], President Cabrera and I met with Black students, faculty, and staff to listen to their experiences with racism. We heard the voices of those who have lived with racism here in our own community and it prompted us to take action to address what we had heard.” From those conversations, the two leaders committed to creating platforms for broader conversations about race and racism at Tech.

Dr. Ervin describes the aspiration for Tech to be an “inclusive community where people of all backgrounds are valued and respected.”

Since the summer, IDEI developed an anti-racism leadership and professional development training for all senior members of the Tech’s leadership. Similarly to last summer, Dr. Ervin says he plans to meet with members of the AAPI community this week to listen to concerns and plan further action to support them going forward.

For more information on how to get involved in diversity initiatives at Tech through IDEI, students can visit