Following mass shootings in Atlanta, Ga., University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 released a statement condemning the reported rise in violence, discrimination, and xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“I join the Princeton University community and people everywhere in mourning the victims of last night’s horrific shootings in Atlanta,” he wrote in the March 17 statement. "We must condemn not only recent acts of violence against Asian Americans, but also the much more pervasive discrimination and stereotyping that has for too long and too often harmed Asian American lives and impoverished our society.”
The statement, posted to the President’s Blog on Wednesday afternoon, followed three mass shootings at massage parlors in the metropolitan area of Atlanta, Ga., on Tuesday. Six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent.
“Though the killings remain under investigation, these attacks come amidst a disturbing nationwide rise in violence, discrimination, and xenophobia directed against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community,” Eisgruber wrote.
A suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, was taken into custody by police Tuesday evening. Long has since been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. Though Long stated that his attacks were not racially motivated, instead claiming they were due to a “sex addiction,” the attacks have struck fear into AAPI communities across the country.
“Our Asian and Asian American communities are in so much pain right now,” Jennifer Lee ’23, co-president of Princeton’s Asian American Students Association (AASA), told The Daily Princetonian.
“AASA supports and stands in solidarity with all of our members in the Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American community, as well as all our students during this time of mourning and loss,” Lee added. "What happened in Atlanta was a tragedy and our hearts go out to the victims’ families.”
Kesavan Srivilliputhur ’23, also an AASA co-president, explained that fears of violence against Asian Americans are incredibly personal for students in the Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American (APIDA) community, whether they are living at home or on campus.
“A lot of my friends, especially those who aren’t on campus, I think they're also feeling especially isolated,” he said. “We all fear for our parents and our grandparents. But sometimes I think living at home, it can be a bit more apparent than when we're up here. And so I think a lot of my friends are worried that something will happen to their parents as they go to work. It’s very hard.”
Lee and Srivilliputhur emphasized the intersectionality present in instances of racial violence — in particular, victimization of elderly people and women.
“Anti-Asian violence and anti-Asian racism is not something that happened because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lee said. “It is not just because of racist rhetoric surrounding COVID-19. It is a long and intertwined history that begins in the 1800s with the beginning of Asian immigration. In the very history of what it means to be American is anti-Asian racism.”
Srivilliputhur also pointed out that in the days following Tuesday’s violence — and after midterm exams and a historically brief spring break — many students are feeling “drained.”
Lee called upon the student body, especially non-Asian allies, to “check in” on the Asian community and to “educate yourself on the anti-Asian racism that is so intertwined in our American history.”
In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by a spike in violence, discrimination, and xenophobia toward people of Asian descent. It has also occurred alongside nationwide protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality in the wake of the high-profile murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery in 2020.
In his statement yesterday, Eisgruber referenced his past remarks at the 2020 virtual Commencement ceremony — reiterating that “we all have an obligation to stand up against racism, wherever and whenever we encounter it.”
“Princeton’s Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander community is a vital source of creativity and strength for this University,” he wrote. “Our future depends on ensuring that they, and people of all backgrounds, can flourish fully here and in America.”
“In our scholarship, our teaching, and our University’s efforts to fight systemic racism, we will continue to support and work with our AAPI students, faculty, staff, and alumni to build a better world,” he added.
In an accompanying statement from the Office of Communications, the University compiled a list of resources for University community members “related to issues of systemic racism, diversity and inclusion.” The post also includes a life of upcoming virtual events “related to issues of race.”
AASA released a similar set of resources in late February to aid peers in reporting violence, signing petitions, writing to elected officials, and staying safe.
“We implore our fellow Tigers to take a look at these resources, take action, and refuse to be complicit in anti-Asian hate,” the members of AASA’s Executive Board wrote in a statement published on Feb. 28.
In reference to Eisgruber’s statement, Lee told the ‘Prince’ that she and Srivilliputhur were “grateful” for the president's support.
“We look forward to working closely with both the University but also ODUS to support our APIDA students in the best way we can,” Lee said.
“With that being said, I will also add that there's a lot more work to be done, even within that partnership with the University,” she added. “It's very easy to make statements — for any organization, even for AASA. But now the hard work begins, which is the actions that are necessary to support those students.”
Lee mentioned being grateful to the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding for hosting a “listening circle,” and praised the University’s Asian American Studies department for its ongoing work.
“It's such an under-appreciated certificate program with a brilliant set of professors and faculty that not enough students take advantage of,” she said. “Our hope, as individuals … is that people reflect in this time of reckoning and make a difference in their curriculum, whether it's including Asian American history in their reading digest or taking time to get to know these brilliant scholars in the Asian American Studies field.”
Lee shared a hope that APIDA students and the Princeton community in general will “take time to grieve and process and heal” from the week’s events.
“Our hearts are here for any of our students,” she said.