The Boniuk Institute

The Boniuk Institute at Rice University is dedicated to nurturing religious tolerance and advancing religious literacy, respect and mutual understanding among people of all and no faiths, especially youth through research efforts, educational initiatives and community engagement.

President Leebron responds to the recent attack on Asian Americans in Atlanta

Dear Rice community,

On Tuesday, in a horrific attack on businesses in Atlanta, eight women were killed including six Asians.  It is a terrible example of the violence that ends too many women’s lives, and against the background of significantly escalating violence against Asians in America, it has led to an increase in the fears of the Asian community around our nation, including our students, faculty and staff here at Rice. We must stand in support of the Asian members of our community.

While anti-Asian attitudes are not new, the escalation of attacks and expressions of hate and intolerance over the last year have been deeply concerning. According to Stop API Hate, in the last year, 3,800 such incidents have been reported, two thirds of which were against women. One recent study found that in major American cities, anti-Asian hate crimes reported to the police increased by 150% in 2020.  No doubt this is an underestimate. Much of this increase has coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. The deliberate use of such terms as “the China virus” to foster bigotry has played a significant role. Sadly and predictably, this escalation of racially based hatred has led to violence.   These incidents have ranged from the violent knife assault on a Burmese American family in Midland, Texas, to an elderly Thai American who was viciously slammed to the ground in an assault in San Francisco, to a Filipino man and others attacked on New York City subways.

We are in a time when we are called upon to reexamine our history of racial and ethnic discrimination, in America and here at Rice. This is not a recent phenomenon. Discrimination and abuse were rife during the nineteenth century even as Asian workers and immigrants made extraordinary contributions to building our country. These attitudes culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  During World War II, American citizens of Japanese descent living on the West Coast were placed in internment camps, a disgraceful action that was shamefully upheld by the Supreme Court in 1944.

The victims of these recent physical and verbal attacks include Asian Americans, Asian immigrants and others from Asia who have come to this country for a wide range of reasons, including reuniting families, education and employment. Hate toward any of these groups is vile. As I expressed last year, xenophobia, particularly when aimed toward specific ethnic or national groups, spills quickly into racism and other forms of discrimination that target American citizens as well. Indeed, it is often the suggestion of “foreignness” that aims at fostering such discrimination and hatred. Asian Americans have been especially subject to this particular aspect of discrimination, as have Hispanic Americans. And when that is coupled, as it so often has been, with the malicious suggestion that such a group is responsible for the current ills affecting our nation, such as economic decline or a health calamity, the inevitable result is a surge of hatred and violence. 

In light of this evidence of escalating violence against Asian Americans, Asian immigrants and Asian visitors to the United States, it is on all of us to speak out against anti-Asian attacks and reaffirm that Asians, whether citizens or not, are welcome here. We are grateful for the remarkable contributions our Asian colleagues have made to the success of Rice University and its vibrant and diverse community.

This is an issue that strikes close to home for us, as a university and personally. The stereotypes that Asian Americans have been subject to are hurtful, demeaning and incapacitating. We must recognize that the increasing frequency of these attacks creates a difficult and fearful environment for Asians, and it is in these times we must recognize the harm and stand in support of the Asian community.

Sincerely,

David Leebron