Last week, Brittney Ye opened up a Google form to track responses for her sorority’s semesterly Philanthropic Juice Pong Tournament. She was met with a racist submission from someone who listed their name as “ching chong ma,” their organization as “ling long,” their Venmo username as “coronavirus” and called Ye and her sorority sisters “fat c****s.”
Ye, philanthropy chair for Kappa Phi Lambda and a sophomore majoring in biology, wrote in a message that she was deeply upset by the response, and noted that the Philanthropic Juice Pong Tournament is a philanthropy event that benefits Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), a nonprofit organization that fights poverty and encourages women and youth empowerment. This year, Ye wrote that CARE is accepting donations to help families fighting against the coronavirus.
“When I saw that, I was so taken back by the fact that someone would go out of their way to make an email for the sole purpose of sending it in,” she wrote. “On top of that, it saddened my chapter that this was what we received in return for trying to raise money for a nonprofit organization through a philanthropic event.”
As fear surrounding COVID-19 continues to grow in Broome County, Asian students at Binghamton University are facing a spike in racism and xenophobia. One international student from China, who wished to remain anonymous, reported that a young child approached her while she was shopping at Walmart and harassed her.
“There was a whole family in Walmart … There were two little girls, and one of them saw me,” the student said. “She jumped right into me and then she started rais[ing] her clothes in a really dramatic way to cover her face. She’s doing this to show me, and then pointing at me and giggling and whispering to her sister. She wanted me to see it. I was like, ‘What the fuck?’”
The child’s parents were nearby while the little girl was making gestures at the student, but they didn’t step in.
“I keep telling myself, ‘Don’t keep thinking about that. Forget about that. It’s a little 7-year-old girl, she has no idea what she’s doing,’” the student said. “But the thing that worries me, is if she doesn’t know, then who taught her that?”
The student said before the incident, she was aware some Asian people were facing discrimination and even physical attacks in other areas of the United States. Still, she never imagined it happening to her. Now, she said international students are discussing what measures they can take to defend themselves, including what self-defense tools they can legally possess.
“Ever since three weeks ago, we started having this conversation about how we cannot go supply shopping alone,” the student said. “They even said you probably want to go by midnight if you are wearing a mask or you just look Asian. I had already heard of issues happening in cities … but Binghamton was such a little town and so much of our population is students that I thought they understand. I thought we were in a relatively safe place.”
The student isn’t the only person to experience racism off campus. Another Asian student, who also wished to remain anonymous, said a woman sitting next to her in a United Health Services waiting room assumed she had COVID-19. At the time, the student was vomiting into a bag because she had the stomach flu.
“I don’t think vomiting is a sign of coronavirus,” the student said. “Nobody in my family has gone back to China in decades. I’ve never been there, so when people assume that because you’re Chinese, you have this — I’ve never been to the country, so how could I possibly have this?”
Since then, she and many of her friends have made efforts to avoid sneezing or coughing in classes and other public settings.
“It feels like it’s only being blown out of proportion because it’s connected to Asian communities,” the student said. “A lot of my friends, who are Asian, we’ve been doing this thing where we try not to cough or to sneeze anymore in public, even if it’s just because you have a cold or your nose itches or you have something caught in your throat. We try to avoid doing that stuff just because we kind of are worried about getting outcasted or seen as weird or infectious by the rest of the people around us.”
Like the anonymous international student, the student said she heard several reports of Asian people being assaulted in New York City and other metro areas around the country. Now, she said she worries about her mother and other members of her family.
“My mom, she works in Queens,” the student said. “She works as a cashier in a pharmacy so she’s exposed to all the people going out to buy things they think they need. I don’t know if any of her customers are going to turn on her and say ‘Hey, you’re part of the problem.’”
Even Asian students who have not been personally targeted say they know racism and xenophobia will continue to be a problem as COVID-19 continues to spread in the United States. Nevertheless, Michael Messina, president of the Asian Student Union and a junior double-majoring in physics and political science, wrote in an email that his community will demonstrate solidarity in the face of hatred.
“The situation shows how willing society is to slip into extremely aggressive acts of hatred and racism,” Messina wrote. “The uniquely problematic aspect of coronavirus racism is that there are statistics for people to point to and justify their actions with; these are illogical excuses to give in to fearful and harmful behavior. But there is also an opportunity here for various multicultural communities to stand together against these acts.”
Ye wrote that she hopes BU students and faculty make efforts to educate themselves and recognize that Asian students are not to blame for the virus.
“As one of the Asian-interest Greek organizations on campus, we are extremely proud of our culture and Asian identity,” she wrote. “It has been difficult for all of us to see so much racism and xenophobia toward our community because of coronavirus and we can only hope that our campus would serve as a safe space for us. As a chapter, we hope that everyone takes the time to educate themselves on how to stay safe during this time.”