Asian-identifying Ryerson students say Instagram infographics aren’t enough to fight anti-Asian hate

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By Darya Soufian

Hana Cho remembers the first time she saw a post about the mass shooting on March 16 in Atlanta and immediately shared it to her own Instagram story. 

The series of mass shootings that took place in Atlanta at three spas on March 16 killed eight people—six of whom were women of Asian descent, with one being a single Korean mother of four.

“I felt frustrated because it felt like I couldn’t do anything else besides [posting on Instagram],” said Cho.

The first-year business management student, who is of South Korean descent, was born in Oakville, Ont. and went to high school in Niagara-on-the-lake. Cho said both cities are predominantly white, therefore she feels she had little support growing up from the communities lacking diversity. 

“As an Asian woman, I feel extremely unsafe a lot [of the time],” said Cho.“With the Atlanta shooting, it resonated with me as my mom is also a single Korean mother.”

Cho recalls her sister breaking down into tears when they were making dinner one night because of how similar the victims’ situations were to their own. 

Her family took it upon themselves to give self-defence kits to family members and consistently encourage them to take precautions when going out. 

Survey results in a 2021 report by several advocacy groups, including the Toronto chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council, showed an alarming rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in Canada. 

The report also showed that 40 per cent of the documented racist attacks and incidents occurred in Ontario, and women represented almost 60 per cent of all reported cases. Asian-American women reported hate incidents 2.3 times more than men, according to a Stop Asian-American Pacific Islander Hate report. However, the real number of incidents is unknown, since many of these cases often go unreported. 

“[Ryerson] put out a statement so it looks like they’re not staying quiet but then they aren’t doing anything beyond that”

According to Statistics Canada in 2020, visible minorities surveyed perceived an increase in harassment and attacks based on race, ethnicity or skin colour that was three times greater than the rest of the population since the beginning of the pandemic.  

Asian students at Ryerson have been vocal about the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in Canada. Some said they find some support within the Ryerson community, but more needs to be done. 

Krista Shepard, a first-year journalism student who is Japanese-Canadian, says she feels there’s a stigma around reaching out to the school for support.

“Sometimes students might feel embarrassed to go to the school for help, which isn’t embarrassing by any means but could be scary for some students,” said Shepard. She said the embarrassment comes from the internalization of being raised to be independent by her Japanese grandparents.

On March 22, Ryerson released a statement on their website titled “There is no place for anti-Asian discrimination and racism in the Ryerson community.”

“Sure the school put out a statement saying ‘we stand in solidarity’ but who hasn’t at this point? They put out a statement so it looks like they’re not staying quiet but then they aren’t doing anything beyond that,” she said. 

In an interview with The Eyeopener, Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said the university stands with members of the Asian community and anyone affected by recent events. 

“Our thoughts are with members of our own community who are upset by the nature of this violence,” said Lachemi. 

He added that Ryerson has created a toolkit in collaboration with a group of prominent Asian-Canadian leaders.

“Anyone facing any form of discrimination or harassment should contact Human Rights Services and also refer to the Responding to Hate Toolkit development on our website,” said Lachemi. “The mission is for our community members to combat racism by taking action. The resource provides links to various organizations.” 

First-year retail management student Isabela Gorgonio said she believes people should do more than posting on social media about the rise in anti-Asian hate. She said this is a form of performative activism when done to boost one’s social status.

“It’s like one day of Instagram activism, and then it’s just checked off the checklist. And that’s not really activism at all, is it?”

Gorgonio is a second-generation Canadian and her parents are both immigrants from the Philippines. 

“Some people don’t understand the topic but feel the need to put up a front because everyone else is doing it,” she said. “I get that you’re sharing this information but your activism stops there.” 

Butterfly, an Asian and migrant sex worker support network, started the hashtag #8CallsforJustice and shared a post every day in the week after the Atlanta shootings, with different messages in honour of the eight victims. The campaign is an effort to call on others to spread awareness and advocate for Asian communities. 

Their eight Calls for Justice are: the full decriminalization of sex work; the elimination of discrimination against sex workers; ending police profiling; ending the conflation of sex work with human trafficking; educational campaigns and policies to fight racism; stopping intrusion by police in places where sex work happens; full and permanent immigration status for all; and guaranteed access to all government services for sex workers. 

The Ryerson Chinese Students’ Association shared a statement on their Instagram in solidarity with the victims and the Asian community. The group also included a number of ways that individuals can help. 

These include but are not limited to: holding individuals accountable for racist behaviour, checking in on Asian friends and supporting Asian-owned businesses. 

Some groups have created virtual safe spaces for the community to talk about the rise in anti-Asian hate and violence. The Filipino Canadian Association of Ryerson hosted a “Filipinx Talks” on March 25 for Filipino-Canadians to connect with one another and bond as a community. 

There are many ways that people can show support, but Shepard said the school should do more than just release a statement. “It’s like one day of Instagram activism, and then it’s just checked off the checklist,” she said.

“That’s not really activism at all, is it?”

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