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Harvard student groups condemn anti-Asian attack on council president

“An affront to one person is an affront to the entire Harvard community,” one group said.
Harvard Yard on the campus of Harvard University
A view of Harvard Yard on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on Jul. 8, 2020.Maddie Meyer / Getty Images file

A number of student-led groups are speaking out after two posters containing racist messages were stuck on the door of Michael Cheng, president of the undergraduate council of Harvard University, on Monday. 

At least two dozen student groups, including the Task Force for Asian American Progressive Advocacy and Studies, the Harvard Korean Association and Harvard Dharma, have signed a letter in support of Cheng. 

The posters, viewed by NBC Asian America, used anti-Asian racial slurs and said “Save the UC,” referring to an undergraduate council election. They were posted on the dorm room door of Cheng, who is Asian American.

The incident follows a heated undergraduate council presidential election, in which he was elected president.

“It’s disappointing that I feel desensitized to all this noise, even though this is just objectively racist,” Cheng told The Harvard Crimson, which reported the news first. 

Following the incident, he is also requesting an apology from the alleged harassers. 

Cheng didn’t respond to NBC News’ requests for comment. 

Angie Shin, a co-president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Women’s Association, said she felt the incident was an attempt to curtail spaces that are safe for people of color. 

“It was a direct attack at what any community should normally strive to hold, which is that people of color matter and their places of rest matter,” she said. 

The letter points out the significance of attacking an Asian American student leader.

“We are writing to you in solidarity after the anti-Asian hate speech committed against Michael Cheng,” the letter reads. “Beyond the rise of Anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Asian Americans in positions of power have been seen as invisible for so long. To see something like this happen is a blow that feels personal to many.” 

The Harvard College Democrats are also supporting Cheng. "An affront to one person is an affront to the entire Harvard community," the group's statement read.

University spokesperson Aaron Goldman denounced the incident in a statement. 

“Immediately upon learning of the racist flyers on the doorway of one of our students, the leadership team at Quincy House initiated the process of bringing our community together to denounce these cowardly acts and show support for the student,” Goldman said.  

But amid a 339 percent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes last year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Women’s Association says this response is not enough. 

“We want to see things that move beyond creating reflective spaces for members but are in fact institutionalizing larger change,” said Ellen S. Deng, 21, a sophomore and co-president of the association. She noted that, “We and many others of the Asian community are absolutely horrified, we’re scared, we’re angry. We’re disappointed.”

Shin, a junior, said the administration’s response does not help resolve racist acts or satisfy the needs of students.

“I think a lot of why we’re not satisfied with the administration’s response is because it’s very noncommittal. It’s not concrete,” Shin said. “It doesn’t promise any long-term maintenance and sustainable changes to how the university responds to claims and allegations of racial harassment and racial discrimination.” 

Student advocates say this incident came as a shock to the institution. 

“It disrupts this idea of Harvard being a bubble where everyone is well-intentioned, and particularly Harvard being a space where Asian Americans do not experience racism,” Shin said. “In reality, if you’re a person of color, you’re going to experience racism of some form wherever you are in America.”