For the past year, Nathan Yeung has been very worried about his parents testing positive for COVID-19. But after a white man shot and killed eight people—six of whom were of Asian descent—in Atlanta, Ga. last Tuesday, Yeung said he is even more fearful for his parents’ safety.
“This week, in addition to [COVID-19], I also had to worry about my parents going to the grocery store and getting attacked, or getting stabbed, or getting shot,” Yeung, a member of the Boston College Asian Caucus and MCAS ’21, said. “It wasn’t a great feeling to have to tell my parents to be careful going to the grocery store when there’s already a virus that’s upended our entire lives.”
The Atlanta shooting comes in the wake of a dramatic increase in anti-Asian hate crimes nationwide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of the shooting, the BC Asian Caucus and the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center (BAIC) hosted two candlelight vigils to honor all victims of anti-Asian violence.
BC community members, who gathered on Maloney lawn on Monday night, lit candles and held a moment of silence honoring the victims of the shooting, as well as the victims of all anti-Asian violence.
Rev. Michael Davidson, S.J., director of the BAIC, reflected on racism in the United States and called for attendees to actively fight against it.
“Hate and violence are often hidden in plain sight, often met with silence,” Davidson said. “That has to change because our silence is deadly. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out.”
Davidson said that the BC community members attending the vigil were actively demonstrating their support for Asian Americans and standing against racism.
“Your presence here tonight is a strong message of solidarity, to take a stand against hate crimes and to stand up against all forms of injustices not only in your community, but in our community,” Davidson said. “We are stronger together.”
The lighting of candles, Davidson said, is symbolic, as it echoes Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
“The light in each of us will overshadow the darkness,” Davidson said. “My dear friends, your education at this prestigious university is preparing you to be the light of the world. And so I echo with everyone here today to keep steadfast, to check in on each other, to maintain your mental health, and most of all, to love.”
Following Davidson’s address, attendees were invited to share a few words with the community.
A junior, who only identified himself as Andrew, said that after he downplayed microaggressions in an attempt to fit in, the shooting was a wake-up call about the severity of racism in America.
“[It was] very scary to feel like I myself can be put in those shoes just based on the color of my skin and the way I look and the way I am as a person,” Andrew said.
Andrew said he hopes that members of the Asian community at BC will recognize that they are valued on campus.
“I hope that we all can leave this candlelight vigil and continue to fight the good fight, whether you are an Asian or not,” he said. “And I hope that we can feel like we don’t have to give up part of our identity to feel like we are loved and we are appreciated and we are human beings on this campus.”
A sophomore international student from Taiwan, who identified herself as Vivian, said she has not witnessed enough conversation, action, and change.
“I hope that this vigil, and all the conversations we’re having in the classroom or the posts on social media, it’s not to provide a sense of closure, but a beginning to a start for us to kind of take action beyond that,” Vivian said. “So I hope that after today, we can keep up this momentum, and start to make changes around campus.”
Part of making changes around campus, Vivian said, is having conversations about marginalized communities at BC.
“I hope we can all do that,” she said. “Bring the conversations we’re having inside the classroom, to be on campus, even if it’s just taking some time in your day to learn about any marginalized community.”
Associate Vice President for Student Engagement and Formation Tom Mogan thanked the students who spoke at the vigil.
“Most of all, I want to say how touched and inspired I am by the words of the students that I’ve heard tonight,” Mogan said. “Thank you for your courage and for your inspiring words, calling us to be a better community and calling us to action, calling us to love and support one another.”
Gordon Chang, co-president of the Asian Caucus and MCAS ’21, said the vigil was necessary in order for community members to mourn together, as students sometimes forget to process their emotions and reflect on such difficult events.
“We really wanted to create a space, even if it’s an hour, for students to really feel that their emotions are valid, that the anger or anything that they’re feeling is valid, and that there is a community here that is willing to come and support and uplift each other,” Chang said.
Yeung said that he was heartened by the support BC community members showed.
“I was very happy to see that so many people reached out to me to talk about joining this event,” Yeung said. “A lot of people asked even if they couldn’t make it if there was a Zoom, and it was very heartwarming to see, like, people [being] here to support us.”
Blair Hu, co-director of service and education for the Asian Caucus and MCAS ’22, said that the turnout was much greater than he expected.
“Honestly it was so hard to tell before we did the event, like, how many people did care,” Hu said. “I feel like Asian American issues and Asian Americans felt ignored and invisible for so long that we weren’t sure if people, even with such a giant event like this, … cared about it.”
Chang said that he hopes to see more support for the Asian and Asian American community.
“I think what a lot of people ask me like, ‘How can I be an ally?’ or ‘How can I support you?’ and I would say to support me is to support the community,” Chang said.
Chang said that such support involves calling out racism and checking in on Asian friends. He also stressed the importance of people in the Asian community taking the time to process and grieve.
“It’s okay to really take time for now to sit back, let yourself heal, because that’s first and foremost extremely important,” Chang said.
The vigil was an important event for the wider BC community to gather together in support for the Asian community, according to Mogan.
“I think it was just a great event for the entire campus community to come out in solidarity and support, you know, for our Asian community on campus,” Mogan said. “So this speaks to our mission for caring and supporting one another in difficult moments, and [showing] compassion for one another.”
Going forward, Mogan said, Student Affairs will be looking to strengthen and improve its diversity, equity, and inclusion programming for students at BC.
At the end of the vigil, Hu called for BC community members to continue to stand against anti-Asian violence.
“This is not like, you know, seven to eight, hour done, we go back to our daily lives, right?” Hu said. “This is like a call to action, right? We’ve got to keep it up, keep the momentum going, both as individual leaders and individual communities, but also as Asian Americans as a whole.”
Correction (3/26/21, 11:54 a.m.): The original version of this article incorrectly identified Blair Hu.
Featured Image by Amy Palmer / Heights Editor