Alumni Association Hosts Community Discussion on Anti-Asian Violence

The Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association hosted a Community Discussion on Anti-Asian Violence with speakers consisting of alumni, Stuyvesant faculty, and current students to talk...

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“The community has become so activated, which has been amazing and that's one of the great joys of the horrific things that have been happening, which is that it has galvanized the community into action,” Pearl River Mart President Joanne Kwong (’93) said.

In response to the spike in anti-Asian violence nationwide and in New York City, the Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association (SHSAA) hosted a Community Discussion on Anti-Asian Violence on April 15. Over 200 people attended the event, where panelists shared their personal experiences, opinions, and questions on the recent hate crimes and racism against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community.

This discussion event was hosted virtually with a panel of speakers, consisting of alumni, Stuyvesant faculty, and current students. The panelists comprised of Kwong, Executive Director of the Asian-American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) Yang Chen (‘83), SHSAA President Soo Kim (’93), AABANY Board Director Chris Kwok (’92), Representative Grace Meng (’93), who represents New York’s Sixth Congressional District, Principal Seung Yu, and juniors Christopher Liu, Xiaoshen Ma, Laura Xia, and Alice Zhu.

For Kwong, attending the discussion was important in sharing her experiences with race during her time in Stuyvesant and the enrichment of her views around anti-Asian hate. “It was so important to participate for Stuyvesant students to hear from alumni,” she said. “I have these experiences I want the current generation of Stuyvesant to know about because when I went to Stuy, it was different. It was more diverse and all of my friends were mixed. There would be African American, Muslim, Asian, Latinx friends from all different socioeconomic groups.”

Kwong’s experience as the president of Pearl River Mart also contributed to her decision to participate in the event to spread more awareness of the Asian-American identity. “I have an art gallery and book gallery, which is very important for kids to walk into my store and see protagonist stories that look like them. It's not about collecting it but learning about what are the traditions and cultures and how we share our culture and making sure that it is as fundamental as our American culture as eating bagels or celebrating [St. Patrick’s] Day. Something like Lunar New Year and a lucky hat, all of these things are American because they are part of the American experience.”

Growing up as a Korean-American in North Carolina, Yu reflected on his personal experiences and explained that witnessing the effects of anti-Asian hate on young people has shaped how he appreciates and identifies with his heritage. “It's interesting to think about it in retrospect because now as an adult, I see what’s happening to our students now, and it has given me more recognition and appreciation of who I am and what I experience,” Yu said.

The adult panelists also enjoyed hearing the perspectives of the current students. “It was important for me personally to communicate with the current generation about these very serious issues that I grew up with and it's sad to look over the past decades and realize there has been little progress,” he said. “It's important to speak to the next future generation who are future decision-makers, policymakers, changemakers, so they can continue to fight and help us to make real progress.”

Yu believed a benefit of the event was hearing a blend of adult and young people’s voices as they drew insight from each other. “We have to find the balance between what young people have to say and what their experiences are, and us as adults,” Yu said. “Hearing the stories of current students and [alumni] helped bridge the gap between the current generation and the adults.”

For student panelists, the discussion posed an opportunity for them to meet with notable alumni such as Congresswoman Meng and learn from reports. “The highlight was seeing all those interesting people, who I have met for the first time,” Ma said. “I saw some interesting statistics, so [...] I got to learn as well.”

Chen presented a report by AABANY, a non-profit organization that represents Asian-American legal professionals and the larger Asian-American community, that provided statistical information. The report entails data showing the increase in anti-Asian hate in 2020-2021, particularly in New York City.

The report also delves into the underlying patterns for the observed increase and the community organizations and the government’s efforts to address the violence. “We published this report two months ago and it's gotten a lot of press,” Chen said. “Unfortunately, since the report came out there have been more attacks on Asian-Americans in the news in New York, so we've been very active in the Asian-American community [through] speaking out and it's probably the most important issue when working on.”

This paved the way for discussion on ways to encourage positive change and solutions to issues in the report. “One thing we're pushing hard on is to make sure the NYPD Asian Hate Crimes task force is being fully funded. We're very much supportive of any effort by law enforcement to bring attention to this issue and we're trying to put as much word out as possible especially to the mayor's office,” he said. “Mayor de Blasio denounced Asian-American violence a year ago but we're still waiting for someone who is arrested for the crime to actually face criminal sanctions for it.”

Despite numerous reports on hate crimes, Chen is still concerned about the accountability behind these crimes but is hopeful that progress will be made soon. “Today we have dozens of reports, but not a single person has actually been prosecuted for it whether it be in jail or held accountable for the crime,” Chen said. “Maybe we'll actually see our first crime prosecution this year and if we do, I think that is good news, but it is way overdue [since] there have been dozens of dozens of these reports and no one has been held accountable.”

Though many thought the event to be informative, they also preferred for more direct discussion with the audience. “It would have been great to have more discussion—maybe breakout rooms—but it's hard for 200 people in the same room to have a discussion. It would have been great if the speakers and the audience were broken up into smaller groups to speak directly,” Chen said.

Yu also observed that the virtual format compromised some of the emotional richness that would’ve been emulated in person. “It’s hard in the remote environment because there’s a different feel when you're in close quarters. I don't think the substance goes away, but it just feels different,” he said.

Kwong appreciated Yu’s presence during the discussion and feels his representation is important for the Asian-American community at Stuyvesant. “What I got out of it was the comfort from being in a space together even though it was digital and to see Principal Yu was actually very powerful for me because I can imagine how beneficial it would be to have a new principal who's Asian-American during this time,” Kwong said.

Ultimately, Yu stresses that it is crucial for these conversations to extend past the event. “These are the things we’ve seen over the course of four to five years, increases in a variety of racial incidents [...] there’s a lot more learning that needs to happen and a lot more listening and recognition of [people of color’s] experiences,” he said. “I want our young people to feel proud about who they are. We all come from different backgrounds, different families, we come from different countries and our cultures are amazing and what we bring to a community is important. Equally contagious is the virus, but equally contagious are the smiles and the laughter.”