On March 27, demonstrators held up signs that read “Stop Asian Hate,” “Stop Racist Violence” and “Hate is a Virus” as dozens gathered by the Athens County Courthouse to protest hate and violence against Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and other race-based minority groups.
The Stop Asian American/Pacific Islander, or AAPI, Hate Rally was in response to the Atlanta spa shootings targeting people of Asian descent, but the Ohio University group behind planning the rally has been around for quite a while.
“Chinese Learners’ Association helps OU to persevere and continue building an ever-more inclusive community,” Yuxi Zhou, a fourth-year graduate student studying chemistry and biochemistry, said in an email. “Our goal is also to bring solidarity together not only within the Chinese/Chinese-American community, but also the whole community together.”
The OU Chinese Learners Association has a long history, dating back to before the current executive board and adviser can even remember, but the name has changed over the years. “Chinese Learners Association” has been the name for at least the past five years, Yuqiu You, the organization’s adviser and an associate professor at OU, said.
“There are lots of (Chinese) scholars, as well as faculty and staff, and we just feel we are here at a foreign country, we are learners – that’s our purpose,” You said. “It doesn’t matter if we are students or we are faculty or staff, our purpose, why we came here, is to learn. That’s why we’re the Chinese Learners’ Association.”
The executive board is made up of four students and an adviser, including Zhou as president, Shirley Wang as vice president, Suzy Zhang as secretary and Qinwen Wang as treasurer. The group is mainly financed by the OU International Student Union but has also been sponsored by Donkey Coffee, AT&T and more, including funding from the Chinese Consulate for the annual Chinese New Year Gala.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the group adapted by holding weekly virtual meetings. The association fundraised to help Wuhan, China. Then, after the pandemic hit the U.S., the members donated PPE including masks and coveralls to the Athens County Health Department and Russ College. The club also donated its funding to OU’s International Student and Faculty Services.
With the pandemic, however, came increased accounts of hate crimes against AAPI. OU’s Chinese Learners Association wanted to come up with a way to combat that hate and stand up to the violence.
“We were very frustrated and heartbroken to see the brutal and tragic violence that took place in Atlanta, Georgia where 3 Asian/Asian-American owned businesses were targeted, and 8 innocent lives died,” Zhou said in an email. “Nevertheless, the prejudice and senseless violence against Asian people also took place in many other cities, particularly, there were many cases (of) people randomly beating the elders.”
The members were so frustrated, in fact, that they organized the Stop AAPI Hate Rally at the Athens County Courthouse, where a diverse audience came to show support and stand up to xenophobia.
“We think this is extremely important that we should have an open dialogue around the history of the tensions and re-establish the cross-cultural allegiance,” Zhou said in an email. “We need to show our support and unite in the efforts against racism, sexism and violence now more than ever.”
You said as the organization’s adviser, she was very proud of their hard work.
“At the beginning I kind of worried if many people would attend or what the impact would be over there…but they worked very hard and they connected to the community and there were lots of people out there,” You said. “Even the Mayor, Mr. (Steve) Patterson, attended our rally, and he’s very supportive. It turned out very well, and as their adviser I feel like I’m really proud of them.”
Zhou is currently working on the programming committee for “Real Talk About Big Questions,” which is a conversation held by OU’s Division of Diversity and Inclusion in partnership with Global Affairs to help participants understand the increased visibility of violence and discrimination against AAPI populations.
In addition, she and the other members of the organization are going to continue holding meetings, open to anyone who wants to join – be it an AAPI individual or an ally/co-conspirator to the AAPI population.
“Our organization is trying to empower Asian/Asian-American especially for the Chinese community and promote awareness and action for AAPI hate crimes,” Zhou said in an email. “Our organization tries to unite our communities to stand against racism, including hate against AAPI.”
Zhou, You and the rest of the organization’s members feel proud of their continued work and support toward the AAPI community, and encourage any OU students to join the organization or use their platforms to raise awareness for AAPI people.
“OU (focuses) on the diversity and individuation of students, where they come from different cultural backgrounds all over the world,” Wang, a sophomore studying psychology, said in an email. “Our organization (upholds) this purpose, provides for Chinese and even Chinese-American community (support), in order to study, live, socialize and grow together. We are a part of (the) OU community. Our goal is to help our members integrate into the OU family and to give (support) when they (meet) difficulties.”