Several Binghamton University sororities and fraternities held a candlelight vigil at the Pegasus statue Thursday evening in memory of Private Danny Chen, an Asian-American soldier who was found dead in his Afghanistan watch tower on Oct. 3, 2011. Chen’s death, which is thought to be a suicide due to the racist hazing he received from his platoon, has since become the topic of much controversy.
“It is unclear whether he committed suicide or was killed, and that is still up for debate,” said William Costa, a member of the predominantly Asian fraternity Pi Delta Psi and a sophomore majoring in engineering. “But regardless of the result, the whole point is that there was vicious hazing against an Asian-American individual who did nothing wrong, and we are trying to raise awareness that things like this still happen.”
Jeremy Poserio, a member of Pi Delta Psi and senior double-majoring in biochemistry and neuroscience, stood in front of the Pegasus statue and next to a picture of Chen as he opened the vigil.
“After joining the military, Chen went and served in an all-white platoon in Afghanistan,” Poserio said. “His platoon mates hazed him nonstop, day and night. They hazed him because he ate dogs. They hazed him because he had slanted eyes. They hazed him because he was yellow. They hazed him because he was Asian.”
Representatives from each of the fraternities and sororities in attendance followed Poserio with brief speeches.
“We need to change,” said a member of the fraternity Lambda Phi Epsilon. “We not only honor one of our peers, but today we make history. Today we make a change to no longer be ignored or stepped over. We need to start taking a stand to make things right.”
Most speakers took the opportunity to discuss discrimination against Asian-Americans at large, though none of the speakers spoke specifically about racism at Binghamton University.
“For far too long we have been known as the silent minority,” said a representative of Phi Delta Psi. “But today we stand up for our rights and make it known not just within our campus but within our universe that we are going to represent ourselves the way we should.”
Speeches were followed by a candle-lighting ceremony and moments of silence for those who have been affected by racism. Trayvon Martin was among those commemorated.
“He could have been me or anyone else in this crowd, just because of the color of our skin,” Poserio said.
Chris Song, a junior majoring in linguistics, who is a member of the Korean-American Christian Fellowship, said the event was moving.
“I guess the last two years that I have been at Binghamton I have been in a bubble surrounded by the Asian-American community, and I haven’t been affected by racism that much. But hearing what happened to Danny Chen reopened my eyes to the fact that racism is still prevalent in the U.S.,” Song said.
According to Brian Hum, a sophomore majoring in economics and a member of Alpha Kappa Psi, the event achieved another unexpected goal.
“It helped bring the Asian community together,” Hum said. “Normally at Binghamton that doesn’t happen. We all joined our frats to promote Asian awareness, and this event heightened that awareness.”