Why some students might not be reporting anti-Asian racism

As anti-Asian racism gains attention on campus, some students are concerned about the barriers to reporting discriminatory incidents they’ve experienced.

In late March, an Asian UBC student was attacked in University Village, with the RCMP reporting that the assailant had used a “racial term” before the attack. However, less prominent cases may be going unreported.

Erika Enjo, a second-year arts student, said that she experienced a microaggression from one of her TAs but never reported it. In a group of four East Asian students and one Caucasian student, the group was running their ideas by their TA. While the Caucasian student was not present at this meeting, the other four students explained her idea of a Kama Sutra-inspired project.

When they told the TA that the white group member came up with the idea, their TA allegedly said that made sense since the East Asian group members did not look “radical” enough to propose that themselves, according to Enjo.

“It was just a really little moment that doesn’t make any sense because he shouldn’t decide what kind of work we make just purely based on our appearance,” said Enjo. “I was just surprised because at UBC, I hadn’t experienced that kind of aggression, especially from one in a position to educate us.”

Enjo said she would have been more comfortable reporting the incident if UBC had an anonymous system to do so since she had to continue working with the TA for the rest of the semester and did not want to create an awkward situation.

UBC policy SC7 on discrimination says that individuals can make anonymous reports, but the Equity & Inclusion Office (EIO) won’t investigate unless the associate VP of equity & inclusion deems it appropriate and launches the complaint process.

While the policy says UBC won’t tolerate retaliation, institutional distrust continues to be a barrier to reporting among Asian communities in North America.

UBC said it was aware of six cases where anti-Asian sentiment was expressed in 2020 compared to four in 2019. On the other side of Blanca, Vancouver saw a 717 per cent increase in anti-Asian hate crime rates since COVID-19 began. A February 2021 Vancouver Police Board report found an increase from 12 cases of anti-Asian hate crimes in 2019 to 98 cases in 2020. These figures only include hate crimes that are reported.

University RCMP did not provide comment after multiple requests for information on anti-Asian hate crimes.

The university’s 2019 Undergraduate Experience Survey reported that while 90 per cent of white students feel that “students of my race/ethnicity are respected on this campus,” the number drops to 72 per cent for Chinese students.

Discrimination does not stop at students. Economics and political science Professor Cesi Cruz took to Twitter to speak out about the discrimination she had experienced on campus.

Campus Security says there hasn’t been a big increase in anti-Asian crime since last year.

“While Campus Security has not seen a large increase in the number of anti-Asian racism incidents compared to previous years, all such incidents are completely unacceptable to the university as a whole. We encourage anyone who believes they have been the victim of a hate crime to contact 911 immediately,” said Ali Mojdehi, acting director of Campus Security, in an emailed statement. He encouraged anyone who feels they’ve been discriminated against to contact the EIO.

While the number of anti-Asian incidents hasn’t gone up significantly, the EIO said it’s seen a 300 per cent increase in human rights complaints in the past year.

“I don’t think it’s because there are any more incidents on campus. I think it’s because people have more trust in the system,” said Associate Vice-President Equity & Inclusion Sara-Jane Finlay.

“When a leader [like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] stands up and says, ‘I’m going to fight anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, anti-Asian racism, it gives people confidence that the institution will deal with incidents that arise.”

Finlay said that there are students who do not report such cases as they believe them too small to report. However, she encouraged them to do so to avoid any long-term impacts and unresolved trauma.

Finlay added that the important thing to do in such situations is to try and document them. If any peers witnessed what happened, she advised getting their perspectives and taking their names. If it happens in a chat or a Zoom class, people can take screen captures and gather information and when they’re ready, approach the office.

Finlay added that students can come into the office with complaints up to a year after an incident.

In 2020, UBC released policy SC18 on retaliation to protect disclosure from any retaliation from the individual they complained against.

“There’s never any requirement that someone comes into our office immediately after something happens,” said Finlay.

“We recognize that sometimes people need time to make connections, seek counselling, be in community with their friends, before they feel ready to come and speak to somebody in our human rights department.”