Since COVID-19 first became news in the United States in early 2020, hate speech and violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community has been on an alarming rise. In 2021, attacks have again spiked, tragically illustrated by a March killing spree that left eight people dead in Atlanta, and a brutal attack on an elderly woman in New York City.
On Wednesday, March 30, a vigil was held at the administration fountain to show solidarity and support the AAPI community both at Stony Brook and around the world.
Sister Sanaa Nadim, chaplain and co-chairperson of the Interfaith Center at Stony Brook and organizer of the vigil, welcomed attendees and delivered opening remarks.
“Stony Brook University’s Interfaith Center has been a source of support for all minority communities seeking racial justice and equality, and that work continues here today,” she said. “Today we honor the lives of those lost to anti-Asian violence, and those who continue to suffer as a result of racially motivated violence. Our work ahead includes creating platforms to educate others on racial and social inequality — with an aim toward combating biases and misconceptions so we can root out racism and hate. We stand in solidarity and in support of the AAPI community.”
After a short prayer by Reverend Zhe Huang, associate director of the Interfaith Center and religious advisor of the Asian Christian Campus Ministry, Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis addressed those in attendance.
“It’s incredibly important that we all join together — right here and right now — in solidarity with our AAPI community,” she said. “Racism and prejudice are an ugly part of our nation’s history. But it is our duty now, as Americans, as global citizens, or simply as members of the Stony Brook community, to connect to reckoning with this history and ending systemic violence and hate.”
McInnis said that Stony Brook’s mission explicitly calls on the campus community to celebrate diversity. “To do so we must recognize that racism and other forms of prejudice are irreconcilable with inclusive learning and work environments,” she said.
“We at the Office of Equity and Inclusion and Multicultural Affairs have dedicated our lives to addressing equity and fairness,” said Judith Brown Clarke, vice president for Equity & Inclusion and chief diversity officer at Stony Brook. “We stand in unity with our Asian American and Pacific Islander brothers and sisters. We hold you in our heads and in our hearts.”
Rick Gatteau, vice president for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, urged members of Stony Brook University to work together to build a safer, more equitable and just society.
“When we gather like this during moments of sadness, anger and fear, it’s an opportunity for us to use our words and actions to become a more inclusive community,” he said. “We each have an important responsibility to educate ourselves, encourage dialogue, embrace our differences, build allyship and spread peace and love to one another. Our diversity is our greatest strength.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone also spoke. “Since I’ve been county executive, one of the most special things about Suffolk County is that it has this global institution which welcomes people from around the world,” he said. “Stony Brook University is a place that stands up tall, strong and proud in representing what the ideals of this nation mean.”
“Out of all the people in Stony Brook University, 19% of those recognize themselves to be Asian,” said Asna Jamal, Biochemistry ’21, interim president of the undergraduate student government. “These are faces, names and people that sit with us in class, that dorm with us on campus and share the same Stony Brook Seawolf experience that we all do. On behalf of the Undergraduate Student Government, I want to ensure that this is a safe space. Stony Brook is a second home for most of us, and we hope that we continue to be welcoming and supportive through these troubling times. You should not have to worry because of your race, ethnicity and gender identity.”
Jamal’s sentiments echoed the words of President McInnis, who also promised acceptance and inclusion on campus.
“Our mission as a university calls on us to advance knowledge,” said President McInnis. “In this I ask each and every one of us to apply empathy, sensitivity, critical thinking and critical perspective as we discuss the mounting tensions of our nation. I ask that you take on your roles as scholars seriously, reflect on the issues that plague our time, and act in service to our Asian American and Pacific Islander friends, colleagues, mentors, peers and neighbors.”
The vigil was co-hosted by the Interfaith Center, the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, the Office of the Dean of Students and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
— Robert Emproto