Marisa Mendosa, Art Director
22nd April, 2021
Last year, at the Arcata High Junior Prom, now senior and current Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Club president, Maya Scanlon, was targeted with hateful comments relating to the coronavirus and her Chinese ethnicity. The room was loud and she just heard three students screaming that she had “Corona” followed by the question, “Why do you eat bats? Dogs and bats?” The loud music made the words difficult to hear. But throughout the night, these students would continually run away from Scanlon yelling, “China virus!” leaving her uncomfortable and frustrated that admin chaperones had not stepped in.
These events occurred over a year ago before school was distanced and prior to lockdowns. But even then, anti-Asian hate was prevalent in the world and even evident on the Arcata High School campus.
Recently, there has been an increase in media attention on the topic of Asian hate. After the killing of Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco on Jan. 28, subsequent attacks on other Asian elders in the weeks that followed, and then the murder of the six Asian women in Atlanta on Mar. 16, it appeared to a vast majority of the population the there was a new wave of Asian hate occurring.
The reality is, since the start of the pandemic, hateful comments against Chinese and other Asian Americans have skyrocketed. An opinion article I wrote for the Pepperbox last year, “Covid or Corona, not Chinese Virus”, includes statistics and examples of hate and xenophobia occurring in the nation a year ago. At that time, there had been over 650 reported incidents of anti-Asian hate and harassment, according to Stop AAPI Hate, which at the time was just an online forum launched in March of 2020. It has grown to be the largest organization fighting Asian hate and accepting reports, and as of Mar. 16, it has received 3,795 reports in about a year.And these numbers are likely higher due to the fact that many incidents are left unreported.
Seeing these statistics has made Asian Americans worried for their own safety and the safety of their families. Students at Arcata High are no different and expressed their feelings about the issues.
Since the Atlanta shooting, senior and AAPI Club vice president, Mewian Gottschalk, stated that “being out in public alone has made [her] hyper aware of [her] surroundings.” She expressed feelings of anxiety about the potential of harm. Despite not actually having experienced anything violent, Gottschalk still feels wary of the threat of Asian hate, especially in public settings.
Working at a local ice cream shop, Scanlon shares similar fears as Gottschalk. “My fears are mainly associated with verbal abuse, whether that be comments about the ‘China virus’ or that, ‘I brought the virus here,’” Scanlon expressed.
Relating to her experience last year, she especially wants to prioritize establishing an easy way for students to report incidents when they experience any form of aggression in a simple, effective, and thorough process that is widely known and acknowledged by the district if something were to occur.
Campus leaders are aware of the situation and are working to promote and ensure the safety of Asian students during this time. Instructional Coach and AAPI Club advisor, Danielle Witten, presented information to the staff prior to the school’s reopening to prepare them for the potential of anti-Asian hate appearing on campus.
“I wanted teachers to be really hypervigilant of what our Asian-identifying students were feeling, so I passed on some of their experiences and some of their concerns specifically,” Witten stated. “I also gave them some information on what they might look for or how anti-Asian hate might show up in the classroom right now, things people might say. And then really specific ways on how to respond to students, should they hear those sorts of things, or witness anti-Asian hate on campus.”
She really hopes to establish ally training so students can help their peers in effective ways and work to root out internal biases. “Becoming an ally helps people educate themselves because I do believe that, while some aggressions are hate-motivated, some are not hate-motivated and are just the product of a student that’s grown up in a racist society, and with education, we can combat that,” Witten said.
Creating systemic change on campus is a cooperative effort, not just from the students and staff, but also with the administration. Dean of Students, Shelley Stewart, described an equity team that has come together consisting of a board member, minority students, club advisors, and community members. “That team is working to create systematic change, which would include paths and avenues to reporting incidents of microaggressions or any kind of hate that’s going on campus that we have the power to ameliorate to support students in particular,” Stewart explained. “We want to have a consistent response so when this happens, how do administrators and how do teachers respond consistently so that we’re not being random or inconsistent in our reactions to students. So we want to have some consistency and some responses in place that will happen meaningfully.”
With all these procedures in the works, there are still options available for students if they feel unsafe or want to report an incident. Stewart suggests going to the office, if a student is on campus, or emailing herself, Principal Jim Monge, Assistant Principal Tahnia Campbell, Student Assistance Counselor Eileen Klima, school nurse Johnny Kell, academic counselors, or a teacher they feel they can trust.
Witten, along with many of the other staff members and those on the equity team, can see the issues and want to help the students by making long-lasting change.
“In that sense, it’s everybody’s problem,” Witten stated. “Not just the school administration, not just the teachers, but also students have a really great capacity to leverage change… Because you have the capacity as students to be more imaginative than adults and see solutions and ways that it’s harder for me to do as an adult who’s grown up in a racist society for longer.”