As part of Stern’s Solidarity Week, The Oppy has partnered with the Asian Business Society (ABS) for a community conversation focused on the Asian and AAPI experience. Having covered many stories on AAPI issues as a journalist, I got to moderate the conversation with 5 student speakers, Jeremy Russell, Vivian Chen, Gordon Fan, Dat Hoang, and Laura Ding, who are all members of Stern’s AAPI community.
As more attacks on Asians have come to light, leaders at ABS felt it was paramount for this event to feel like an open discussion rather than a listening experience.
Stephanie Li, the incoming co-president of ABS, said she specifically wanted a panel of student speakers instead of an expert or celebrity.
“I want it to be more authentic,” Li said. “Open it up [for students] to talk about their own experience, to share and find a safe place, instead of [listening] to celebrities talk about what they feel or think.”
Born and raised in Harbin, China, Li has been living in New York for the past 5 years. When Covid started, she said she felt the tension rise. There was virus-fueled aggression geared towards early maskers, especially Asians, so she began to wear a scarf to cover the fact that she was wearing a mask.
Li said she’s been feeling “very anxious, nervous, sad, and very angry,” especially after the mass shootings in Georgia.
Shien Yin Teo, who’s also a co-president of ABS, attended college in California and moved back and forth from Asia. She said coming back this time, she was shocked at the outward hostility she received on the streets of New York.
“I would get random comments on the street saying ‘go back to where you came from’…that’s never happened before. I never really thought anything about it. But I think after the Georgia shootings, I started thinking I’m lucky because all they did was say something. But then it got me thinking, it’s crazy that I should feel thankful that it wasn’t something more serious,” Teo said.
“A lot of people, like a lot of my American coworkers, don’t even know there is a sentiment for anti-Asian,” Li said. “There’s not enough awareness for the Asian community.” The lack of awareness is one of the main reasons why she wanted to have this discussion on the Asian identity and solidarity with other communities.
An Open Conversation
The discussion started with the speakers sharing their experiences living in the States as an Asian or Asian American. Then we touched on topics like racism, thoughts on recent attacks, the role race played in their professional lives, harmful stereotypes, and media representation. As the conversation went on, we started to receive so many insightful questions and comments from the audience that our planned list of questions was no longer needed.
Li was initially worried people wouldn’t want to participate because it’s a sensitive topic.
“I didn’t know how much involvement the audience wanted to have. I was really worried it’ll be awkward and quiet because people just feel shy to share their stories, but I feel it went really well…I had tears in my eyes, literally, and I’m not really an emotional person.”
“I think what ended up coming out more during the event was this sense of ‘you’re not alone’ among the Asian community,” Li added.
For Teo, the conversation was an inspirational and educational experience, as students were sharing links to AAPI resources, workshops, and tips on how to be a helpful bystander.
“We also discussed a lot about the exclusion of Asian American history from American history textbooks and curriculums, and because I didn’t go to high school here, I never learned about that. That was a ‘wow’ moment for me.”
For the upcoming months, ABS is planning fundraisers and discussing the possibility of partnering up with other Stern clubs and local nonprofits devoted to serving AAPI communities. Li and Teo are also hoping to host more cultural events to showcase Asian food, art, and cinema.
Recently, ABS was invited to join the Coalition of Asian American MBAs, a national organization that was created in January of this year in response to the growing wave of anti-Asian sentiment.
“We haven’t gotten any concrete next steps just yet, but I think just banding together and [wanting] to collaborate, stand together, and grow that network is a big step,” Teo added.