CFA United in Work against Anti-Asian Violence

The California Faculty Association (CFA) Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans Caucus (APIDA) and statewide officers continue to be nauseated after more than a years’ worth of increased hateful, racist anti-Asian rhetoric and violent countrywide physical assaults against Asian Americans, which culminated last week in the deplorable murders of eight Atlanta-area victims, six of whom were Asian women.

This white supremacist, misogynistic attack isn’t a shock. Hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have been surging over the past year. It is far past time that public leaders – and the California State University system – act against the biggest threat to American democracy: white supremacy.

“The last few years have shown us clearly how much both leadership and words matter, and so, just as divisive, racist rhetoric from our leaders can inspire hateful acts, so too can unifying, inclusive rhetoric from our leaders inspire understanding, kindness, and healing,” said Darel Engen, CFA Associate Vice President, South.

Every instance of hateful words and physical actions should be called out – and we urge Chancellor Joseph I. Castro and CSU leadership to take action to protect our APIDA faculty, staff, and students immediately. APIDA faculty, staff, and students are directly impacted by the continued barrage of anti-Asian racism affecting our communities. Many are afraid to leave their homes for fear of hostile verbal attacks and violent physical assaults that have followed from the inflammatory rhetoric of some of our national leaders, including the former president of our country, and look forward with anxiety to the uncertain environment on our campuses when we return to face-to-face teaching. 

Our country. Let those words sit with you. For nearly two centuries, Asian and Pacific Islanders have called the United States home. And for nearly two centuries, our ancestors and our families have faced racist tropes, “yellow peril” fear-mongering, violent massacres, lynchings, forced internment into remote camps, continued societal exclusions, hateful rhetoric, and isolationism. Our communities are either called “model minorities” or we’re “othered,” cast away as unworthy of being called Americans. This is a reflection of not just historical white supremacy with such highly visible organizations as the Ku Klux Klan pillaging Black, Latinx/Chicanx, Native and Indigenous, Asian, and Jewish communities; this is a reflection of white supremacy and white culture, both overt and covert, conscious and unconscious that continue to dominate America today.

And this isn’t just happening “over there” in some other place hundreds or thousands of miles away. This consistently happens in our own communities right here in California. This happens on our 23 campuses at the CSU.

“There are so many ways that APIDA faculty are mistreated and marginalized in the CSU,” said Lisa Kawamura, lecturer in Communication Studies at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and co-chair of the CFA Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans Caucus. “Whether it is the overreliance on biased student opinion surveys, the ways that APIDA faculty are treated by white and male students or dismissals based on how we appear, sound, or behave, we have, at one time or another experienced this kind of mistreatment. 

“White Supremacy allows for this kind of treatment and to conveniently disguise these acts as acceptable.”

APIDA faculty are negatively impacted by structural racism and prejudice within the CSU system. Our faculty are fearful for our APIDA students as they return to campus in the fall. We fear for the safety of our APIDA colleagues, worrying they will be the next target of rising, violent hate crimes. We wonder about the degree to which APIDA faculty members, particularly women, have been held back in their professional development and promotion and tenure tracks on account of the same prevailing cultural biases against the APIDA community that have given rise to the more obviously hostile rhetoric and physical violence.

These biases are also seen with how some students treat APIDA faculty in the classroom and in course evaluations, particularly white male students in regard to APIDA women faculty – disrespectful and even hostile treatment in the classroom and negative comments on evaluations. This relates to the general anti-Asian racism — and intersection with gender and sexualization of APIDA women — as seen nationally in the Atlanta shootings, and with what happens on CSU campuses.

More than one year ago, CFA leadership knew there was plenty of work to do to better protect our APIDA communities in the CSU, because of an increase in racist rhetoric targeting Asian communities due to COVID-19. 

As we see today, there is still so much work left to accomplish. Our key stakeholders are tirelessly working to ensure structural changes happen at the CSU. So far, we have:

  • Worked to pass and implement Assembly Bill 1460, an ethnic studies requirement for all students enrolled in the CSU, even as the CSU fought against it and to water down ethnic studies and to oppose implementation recommendations by the CSU Ethnic Studies Council, Academic Senate, and campus senates;
  • Worked with Dr. Russell Jeung — the co-launcher of Stop AAPI Hate, chair of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, and CFA member – on Combatting AAPI Hate in the Age of COVID-19, to create a nationwide educational curriculum for our students to learn how to combat hateful rhetoric, bullying, and violence in our communities;
  • Continued advocacy in ADPIDA Caucus and all 23 CSUs for systemic and policy change to ensure APIDA faculty in the CSUs are safe, respected, and heard;
  • Hands-on involvement in CFA’s Equity Conference and Equity Week

“White supremacy is so entrenched in our society that we sometimes question our power to fight against racism and oppression,” said Vang Vang, librarian at Fresno State and co-chair of the CFA Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans Caucus. “But we do have power if we join forces.  Black and Brown communities have suffered for generations and continue to fight for equality and justice. We must view our struggles as one. 

“The time is now to unite and demand that our leaders push for policies that support our safety and our growth for we are America.”

“You’re not going to get action without awareness first,” said Engen. “As educators, we know that ignorance of the problem perpetuates the problem. Documenting incidences of ongoing anti-Asian racism and teaching about its historical basis are key steps toward getting people to take action to stop it.”

This is why we fought for AB 1460, so students enrolled in the CSU can learn about Asian American studies, Black/Africana studies, Chicanx/Latinx studies, and Native/Indigenous studies. The long history of othering of Asian Americans must stop now. We encourage all students to take an ethnic studies course next semester, even before the law is implemented.

Our leadership continues to discuss details surrounding new initiatives and demands for inclusive, structural change on our campuses and in our union. Let’s not repeat the routine of immediate outrage at a tragedy quickly followed by waning interest and neglect. 

Eliminating racism and ensuring social justice is an ongoing effort that demands our continued awareness and action.