Over the past few weeks, individuals across the country have been mobilizing in solidarity after a year of heightened anti-Asian violence exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic — and the Binghamton University community is no different.
At noon on Saturday, over 500 people gathered at the Peace Quad, the center of the BU campus, to attend a rally and march organized by the Binghamton Pan Asian Leaders Council (BPALC) and the Asian Student Union (ASU). The rally, titled “Binghamton Stop Asian Hate Crimes Rally,” began with a number of scheduled speakers that reflected on the Asian American experience. Speakers included a mix of students, faculty and notable alumni, such as John Liu, ‘89, New York state senator and founder of ASU, and Aviva Friedman, ‘14, councilwoman of Binghamton’s fourth district. Organizers honored the lives lost in the recent Atlanta mass shooting, which claimed the lives of eight people, including six Asian women, with a moment of silence.
Nortee Panpinyo, president of ASU, founder of the BPALC and a junior majoring in systems science and industrial engineering, expressed solidarity with the Asian American community and emphasized the need for students to take action.
“A lot of these issues aren’t things that we have to wait for administration and the Student Association [SA] to figure out for us, these are things that should be led by students because, at the end of the day, we’re the people who understand us the most,” Panpinyo said. “I don’t think anyone really tells people in the Asian community that they’re loved, that they are people who deserve respect. If they need a space to talk, at least the students here will provide it.”
The rally is the result of over a month and a half of brainstorming, reaching out to elected officials on the local and state level and working closely alongside the Asian and Asian American studies department for BPALC. Over 40 student organizations expressed solidarity with BPALC and ASU, including Asian Outlook, BU Japanese Association, Korean American Student Association, Philippine American League, Tae Kwon Do, Indian International Student Union, International Student Association, Black Student Union, Latin American Student Union, Women’s Student Union, SHADES and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.
Justin Roman, president of Asian Outlook and a senior majoring in business administration, noted the significance of hosting the rally on campus.
“We came out with a list of demands, and a lot of those are administration-focused,” Roman said. “We chose to do [the rally] on campus so that other students on campus can see what we’re fighting for, and so that the administration will physically notice what we’re doing, as it does start right outside the Couper Administration Building.”
The list of demands, created by the presidents and members of Asian on-campus organizations of BPALC, expressed the “disappointment in the University’s appalling neglect for its Asian and minority populations” and highlighted the anti-Asian incidents that have occurred on the University’s campus. The coalition calls for transparency on racial incidents, policies thoroughly addressing all types of discrimination, expansion and increased representation in the University Counseling Center and translators for Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD).
Roman voiced his frustrations with the administration’s handling of racial incidents throughout his time at BU, stating that whenever a racist incident took place in his four years at BU, the administration would provide limited information on what happened.
“And we’re students, so we’re going to find out anyway through personal channels, and it kind of hurts that we have to find out from a Reddit post or through some GroupMe, when we really feel like the administration should be on top of it, addressing these issues and issuing out just punishments,” Roman said.
Panpinyo also noted the lack of support he felt from the University regarding anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents.
“They haven’t addressed it until the recent Atlanta shootings, and this has been something that’s been ongoing for a year,” Panpinyo said. “We see the notifications every day, but the University has done nothing to provide the spaces for us to talk and understand our feelings.”
Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations at BU, commended students for “speaking out against recent acts of violence and harassment” taking place over the past year.
“The University stands strongly against hate, discrimination and violence and will continue to call it out as we have done in the past,” Yarosh wrote in an email. “These acts are expressions of ignorance and warped ideologies that run counter to the ideals of learning, open-mindedness, diversity and inclusion that lie at the heart of our campus. We call on anyone who experiences or witnesses any act of violence, harassment, intimidation or bias against our Asian American students and colleagues to report it immediately to [UPD]. As a campus, we will continue to express our support of Asian Americans and anyone who is the victim of racism, bigotry or misogyny.”
After the scheduled speakers, rally organizers led a march that began in the Peace Quad, passing through Old Dickinson Community, Newing College, Dickinson Community, the University Union, Glenn G. Bartle Library and the Spine. A number of attendees held signs with slogans, some of which included “Fuck your bad day,” “Call it what it is — a hate crime,” “Stop [Asian American Pacific Islander] hate,” “We are not silent — but are you listening?” “Not your fetish” and “愛” — the Chinese character for the word “love.” Participating multicultural organizations had chalked a timeline detailing key historical moments in Asian American history along the Spine, and posters were placed on the benches from different Asian organizations sharing their respective cultural traditions.
The “Binghamton Stop Asian Hate Crimes Rally” is the first large-scale organizing effort by BU’s Asian community in recent years. Leaders of the rally referred to historical instances of Asian activism that preceded them in the University space throughout the event. Panpinyo discussed the importance of student activism in creating the Asian American identity and social change overall.
“I think people forget this, but a lot of the movements in the past [have] started on campuses,” Panpinyo said. “The Asian American identity itself started in the 1940s in California on a campus. So a lot of the push starts from the younger generation … people need to remember it’s necessary for college students to speak up on these issues because it does carry forward, and it does inspire the next generation.”
Leaders of Saturday’s rally hope to catalyze another chapter in the University’s history of civil rights activism. Roman mentioned the desire to leave a legacy for those who will come after him.
“[In] 1991, students advocated for an Asian and Asian American studies program, and it worked,” Roman said. “Now we have the benefits of having those departments and classes. If those students had not done that, then we wouldn’t have [those resources].”
At the end of the rally, attendees gathered back at the Peace Quad to listen to an open mic. Elisse Howard, a junior double-majoring in psychology and human development and senior advisor to the Latin American Student Union, reflected on the event.
“I learned how important it is to stand for what you believe in and fight for a cause,” Howard said. “You don’t have to be directly affected to support [a community]. This rally helps students understand that they are not alone and that they can use their voices to be heard and make a difference on campus.”
Organizers of the “Binghamton Stop Asian Hate Crimes Rally” echoed similar sentiments, stressing the necessity of unity in BU’s multicultural community moving forward. Roman acknowledged the Asian organizations’ shortcomings in supporting other multicultural communities in the past.
“The big [goal] is showing up … something we talked about in ASU is that last semester, the Black Student Union did hold a rally, and really none of us showed up for them,” Roman said. “That’s not acceptable because hate in any minority community is something that needs to be talked about, and we can’t expect them to show up for us if we’re not showing up for them.”
BPALC hopes to continue the advocate for the Asian community through local legislation, helping Asian-owned businesses in the area and working with organizations, such as the American Civic Association, in the future.
Panpinyo said the event was impactful and empowering, even as an organizer.
“When we were coming back into Peace Quad, and I finished all the chanting and I was out of breath, I looked back and I saw the mass of people coming down the stairs,” Panpinyo said. “Everyone was still chanting, and even though I was out of breath, people picked it up. That’s something that is so empowering to me, because it means that when my voice is out, and I don’t have the ability to continue on, people will pick up where I left off.”