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Three Asian NYU students assaulted around campus in last month

A string of attacks on Asian students at NYU leaves community members worried and seeking answers from their university.
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Asian students at New York University say they are on edge after a string of assaults were reported over the last month. A spokesperson for the school described four separate attacks in February in which students were suddenly assaulted on streets near the Washington Square Park campus. 

Three of the four victims were Asian, said NYU spokesperson John Beckman. 

One of them, senior AJ Sun, told NBC Asian America that while walking on campus on Feb. 15, a white male punched him in the side of the head and fled. The attack left him rattled, and Sun said that he doesn’t feel the same sense of safety walking around campus anymore. 

“Any Asian student walking on campus is still in danger of random, sporadic and yet detrimental hate-infused attacks,” he said. 

The attacks on NYU students, first reported by the campus newspaper Washington Square News, preceded a spree of assaults Sunday on seven Asian women in Manhattan. Steven Zajonc, 28, was arrested Wednesday and charged with seven counts each of assault as a hate crime, attempted assault as a hate crime, aggravated harassment and harassment, police told NBC News earlier this week.

NYU’s Campus Safety Department reported the incidents to the NYPD and is operating under the assumption that the three attacks on Asian students were motivated by racism and are connected in some way, but Beckman says it’s not a certainty. 

“We want these incidents to end immediately,” Fountain Walker, vice president for NYU Global Campus Safety, said in an email to the student body this week. “We are conscious of the unease that Asian members of the NYU community may be feeling right now; we stand united in full support of them, and want them to know they have our support and that we are determined to make them feel secure on our campus."

The university has plans to increase campus security patrols, and add better lighting and more cameras around Washington Square Park.

Sun said he takes issue with the way Campus Safety officers initially handled the report of his assault. In the days following the attack, he said NYU took no action besides documenting what happened.

“No representative from NYU has reached out to me asking how I am feeling physically and emotionally after suffering from this horrific hate crime assault,” he said. “How little effort NYU put in supporting and giving us support made me very disappointed.”

After Sun made the issue public with a series of Instagram posts, he said NYU’s attention to the problem improved. Since then, he’s been able to connect with some of the other victims and meet with school administrators. But the violence has persisted since his attack, he said, and it has left community members shaken. 

“I understand that it’s a slow and long process to change the system,” he said. “But the fact that this suspect is still committing crimes in the middle of campus, and any student can become a possible victim is not letting us feel safe to walk on campus anymore.”

Walker noted in his email to students that Campus Safety has been instructed to take similar incidents seriously.

“We have reinforced with Campus Safety Officers the importance of treating reports of students being struck — or any other matter — with the utmost seriousness, promptness, respect, and concern,” Walker wrote.