What Does #StopAsianHate Mean for Social Work Education?

Published on : May 12, 2021

Duy Nguyen Headshot By Duy Nguyen, PhD, LCSW, MSW 

We mark this Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month amid the groundswell of community organizing around #StopAsianHate. Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, hateful, xenophobic language and attitudes have been hurled at Asian Americans. News coverage has enabled us to witness accounts of assault and murder in New York City, suburban Atlanta, and  in towns large and small across the country. Researchers in California document a 164% increase in police-reported hate crimes directed toward Asian Americans in the past year (Levin, 2021). Meanwhile, members of the public recorded nearly 4,000 hate incidents between March 19, 2020, and February 28, 2021 (Jeung et al., 2021). Through her COVID-19 Adult Resilience Experience Study, CSWE MFP doctoral alumna and Boston University School of Social Work faculty member Hyeouk Chris Hahm reports 70% of Asian American respondents witnessed some violence or microaggressions related to the COVID-19 pandemic (Jahnke, 2021). By any metric, anti-Asian hate is pervasive and affects us all.

Asians have been the target of racism and discrimination since the earliest individuals of Chinese and Filipino descent landed on American shores (see Discrimination and Violence Against Asian Americans, 2021; Wu, 2002). In their recent study, MFP doctoral alumnae Sameena Azhar, Antonia Alvarez, Anne Farina, and Susan Klumpner (2021) shine a timely spotlight on the racism, discrimination, and sexism directed at Asian-ethnic individuals. While reviewing the #thisis2016 discourse initiated by New York Times journalist Michael Luo, the researchers highlight the pervasive and pernicious acts of discrimination—big and small—that are experienced routinely. The authors identified six main themes that bridge ideas of exoticism, sexualization, portrayals of weakness, and neocolonial attitudes that perpetuate Asian Americans’ foreignness.

Despite exclusionary social policies, a mass lynching in 1871, and the World War II internment of Japanese Americans, the Asian American community has shown great resilience as they seek to overcome the social disadvantages imposed by a White-supremacist system. The imposition of the model minority label by the White power structure glosses over the rich diversity among Asian groups and has strained relationships between Asians and other historically racial/ethnic minority groups. Efforts to break down social barriers lead to Asian Americans’ long history of coalition-building across racial/ethnic groups. For example, during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Asian American and Black American leaders recognized that broad coalitions are necessary to produce meaningful change in race relations (Lee Boggs, 1998). We are at a similar inflection point today as the Black Lives Matter movement converges with #StopAsianHate during a global public health pandemic.

As social work educators, we cannot ignore the fact that racism, discrimination, and sexism infiltrate our classrooms, faculties, and universities, with negative personal and professional consequences for our students, colleagues, and communities. As McCoy and Lee (2021) describe, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the demands on BIPOC faculty members, who deal with institutionalized racism within the academy while bearing witness to the wanton disregard for Black and Brown lives in the world around us.

As the MFP director, I have the privilege and honor to engage in conversations with master’s and doctoral students from a range of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. I support students as they contend with the subtle discrimination and overt racism in their programs, racism and discrimination that chips away at their self-worth. Through it all, I seek to validate their experience, value them as individuals, and help them map out pathways to meaningful career goals. 

Building on Social Work's Call to Action Against Pandemic Othering and Anti-Asian Racism (Council on Social Work Education, 2021), to create substantive change in an antiracist context all social work educators—especially administration, tenure line faculty members, adjunct faculty members, and field instructors—must engage in the difficult work to dismantle the racism around us. This is not an intellectual, transactional exercise that can be accomplished by reading a book or listening to a podcast.

“The work” means that deans, directors, and program directors need to move beyond mission and vision statements and operationalize the statements with mechanisms for accountability.

“The work” spans token and cluster hires that can be dismissed as a response to outrage.

“The work” requires conversations with our BIPOC colleagues to understand why they ask the research questions they do, which often is tied to BIPOC communities and families.

“The work” goes to a critical examination of what we teach, how we teach, and how we assess and support students’ success, especially when we fall short.

“The work” requires engagement with individuals and communities to understand their social experiences.

Efforts to engage in antiracism and work toward decolonizing social work are long and hard; there are no shortcuts or quick answers. Collective action requires each individual to engage in an honest reflection of values with concrete data points. When social work educators engage in these difficult conversations, then we can come together to make meaningful change to see to it that Black Lives Matter, so we can #StopAsianHate and move beyond the hashtags of the moment to strengthen our profession and communities.

Azhar, A., Alvarez, A. R. G., Farina, A. S. J., & Klumpner, S. (2021). “You’re so exotic looking”: An intersectional analysis of Asian American and Pacific Islander stereotypes. Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, 36, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1177/08861099211001460

Council on Social Work Education. (2021). Social work’s call to action against pandemic othering and anti-Asian racism. https://www.cswe.org/CSWE/media/News/Joint-Statement-Social-Work-Call-to-Action-Against-Pandemic-Othering-and-Anti-Asian-Racism.pdf

Discrimination and violence against Asian Americans, 117th Cong. (2021) (written testimony of the Asian American Psychological Association). https://aapaonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/AAPA-Testimony-to-House-Judiciary-on-3.18.2021.pdf

Jahnke, A. (23 March 2021). Asian Americans and the model minority dilemma. BU Today. http://www.bu.edu/articles/2021/asian-americans-and-the-model-minority-dilemma/

Jeung, R., Yellow Horse, A., Popovic, T., & Lim, R. (2021). Stop AAPI hate national report. Stop AAPI Hate. https://stopaapihate.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Stop-AAPI-Hate-National-Report-210316.pdf

Lee Boggs, G. (1998). Living for change. University of Minnesota Press.

Levin, B. (2021). Report to the nation: Anti-Asian prejudice & hate crime. Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, California State University-San Bernardino https://www.csusb.edu/sites/default/files/Report%20to%20the%20Nation%20-%20Anti-Asian%20Hate%202020%20Final%20Draft%20-%20As%20of%20Apr%2030%202021%206%20PM%20corrected.pdf

McCoy, H., & Lee, M. Y. (15 March 2021). Minority academics face dual pandemics of Covid-19 and racism. Times Higher Education. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/opinion/minority-academics-face-dual-pandemics-covid-19-and-racism

Wu, F. (2002) Yellow: Race in America beyond Black and White. Basic Books.