Boston College’s South Asian Student Association (SASA) released a statement on Wednesday condemning a string of anonymous posts that surfaced last weekend attacking and racially stereotyping South Asians.
The club denounced a number of posts on Herrd—an anonymous social media app popular among the BC community—that singled out specific students, negatively compared South Asians to other racial minority groups, and made demeaning comments about physical features of South Asians.
“We were just very surprised about the posts,” Ishaan Kaushal, a member of the SASA and WCAS ’23, said. “We’ve definitely as a club seen microaggressions or very like complicit or casual racism on campus, but to see it so widespread on Herrd, and especially people liking the messages and people being individually called out is what threw us off guard.”
Carter Beaulieu, co-founder of Herrd and BC ’20, said one user uploaded around 10 to 15 posts over a short period of time. The posts were later removed by Herrd administrators.
“Some of the posts were like ‘Oh, why do Indians always own gas stations or hotels,’ and then someone responded and said, ‘They don’t usually own it because they’re too poor for that. They just work there,’” Kaushal said. “Another one was ‘If my Marriage Pact was a South Asian, I would want to kill myself’ and then ‘If your last name is Patel, Kumar, Singh, Gupta, or Dhaliwal, like please shut up.’”
Lubens Benjamin, chair of the AHANA+ Leadership Council and CSOM ’23, said hateful comments like these let students know this is not a safe and inclusive campus, but a place where people have hate in their hearts.
“[Students] who identify with these identities, they have to hear these things, to see these things, internalize these things, and really have to go throughout the day at BC feeling like they have to survive,” he said.
Kaushal said the SASA wanted to make clear through its statement that racism against South Asians cannot be disguised as humor.
“Looking back at racist incidents that have happened at BC, especially against the Black community, it always starts small with jokes … [and escalates] to like outright explicit racism,” Kaushal said. “And we wanted to let people know that doing things like naming individuals or attacking physical appearances is just absolutely not okay.”
Kaushal said South Asian students do not typically look like the average light-skinned, blond-haired BC student, so the comments about South Asian physical features particularly stung.
“So to have those features called out and made fun of, it definitely hurt and … I’m really worried about future BC students who are from South Asia, or South Asian international students coming to a campus and just trying to get an education and feel like they belong, being made fun of for something they can’t control,” Kaushal said.
Herrd removes offensive and hateful posts through its reporting system, Beaulieu said, where students flag content for Herrd administrators to review. After deleting the string of posts targeting South Asians, Herrd emailed and temporarily banned the user who posted them, and has been in contact with BC’s administration about the incident.
“We sent an email to this person telling them our conditions … and it served as a warning email to them that we basically noticed these posts are coming from you,” he said. “So we sent that email to them and … we’re working [directly] with BC admin to see how they want to handle this situation.”
Though Herrd itself does not make conduct decisions, the app works with BC’s Student Affairs, who then works with the Office of Student Conduct, according to Beaulieu.
“We as an app don’t enforce decisions that a school might make as far as disciplinary action, but we provide everything that they need in order to make a decision,” he said. “So we’re working with them and we are doing everything we can in order to help them hopefully make the right decision.”
Kaushal said that Herrd stepped up by working with BC’s administration after the incident, but they still have a ways to go.
“I definitely think Herrd does need to step in at times when things like bias are more talked about on Herrd, because South Asians being mentioned on Herrd isn’t the first time that Herrd has [had an] almost massive wave of targeting specific groups of people’s identities,” he said.
Benjamin said that UGBC plans to meet with Herrd administrators, representatives from the SASA and Asian Caucus, and Associate Vice President for Student Engagement Tom Mogan to mitigate the harm being done on the app. He said Herrd should take more proactive steps in removing users who post hate speech.
“And if not, then we’ll have to take measures such as taking Herrd off eduroam,” Benjamin said, referring to BC’s wifi. “Banning it on eduroam is not off the table if things don’t get better.”
The way to have offensive posts removed quicker, according to Beaulieu, is for more students to report them.
“The more that people on Herrd are reporting these incidents and coming forward to us and us having a talk like this … the more that we can keep Herrd a safe place,” he said.
Beyond Herrd’s response, Kaushal said he hopes the person who made the posts faces more severe disciplinary action from the University. Change at BC, he said, must move beyond just the DiversityEdu module, a diversity education platform completed during students’ first year at BC.
“I think there’s a great opportunity [to] incorporate [Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion] into people’s education,” he said. “I think really reforming those things—DiversityEdu and the cultural diversity core are great starts, but there’s still so much more they can do.”
Benjamin said he thinks the University is often too relaxed with its conduct process for racially motivated incidents and change at BC needs to happen from the top down.
“I feel like so many times in BC’s history, and even now, we try to put the job of changing the BC culture and changing everything on the students rather than admin really taking a hard look at themselves,” he said.
According to Kaushal, anonymity on Herrd has reflected some of the more problematic aspects of the BC community, especially pertaining to issues of race on campus.
“I definitely think Herrd has a very unique role in BC culture,” Kaushal said. “Not only is it used to influence a lot of the shared BC identity, but a lot of anonymity within Herrd has shown some of the concerning parts of BC’s community.”
Beaulieu said he believes that the anonymity of Herrd may partially contribute to hateful posts, as students forget Herrd administrators have access to their BC emails, which they use to sign up for the app.
“Students think that they’re basically invincible, but in reality, the anonymous feature is just so people feel comfortable sharing stuff, not so people can post hateful stuff without being punished,” he said.
Despite the initial shock of the incident, Kaushal said prejudice toward Asians is not a new thing, both at BC and across the country.
“The relationship America has with Asian Americans is a very shallow pool,” he said. “On the surface, it looks nice. … They love going out to eat Thai food, love to consume Asian media, but when push comes to shove, the appreciation doesn’t go that deep.”
Benjamin said this incident ultimately demonstrates that BC has a history of Asian hate.
“This isn’t anything new,” Benjamin said. “It’s something that’s been continued, and it just shows that whenever we don’t take steps, these same instances repeatedly happen over and over again.”
Featured Image by Vikrum Singh / Heights Editor