We, as the Vietnamese Student Association at the University of Michigan, write this open letter to shed light on one of many incidents that affect us, as Asian/Pacific Islander Americans (A/PIAs), throughout our college experience. From microaggressions—such as trying to guess our ethnicity—to outright shameful appropriation of our diverse cultures, we write this to heighten visibility of campus climate issues related to the A/PIA community. Because the voices of people of color have been and continue to be silenced historically and systematically, we hope to highlight our specific experiences and voices as A/PIAs and contribute to the current dialogues on campus.
Many of our members took part in the Michigan football tradition during the UofM & MSU game day at East Lansing. As proud Wolverines, we were excited to show our school spirit and support our team.
As one of our members recalls:
“UofM vs. MSU game day. It’s one of the few days of the year that I genuinely look forward to. For me, it’s not just another opportunity to express my loyalty to the Maize and Blue amongst Spartan fans, but also, a reunion and bonding experience with friends of the rival school. It’s a day where we all exchange a fair share of banter about each other’s schools and yet, still maintain civility, friendship, and respect.”
But this day turned out to be far from the harmless outing we anticipated. At the game, we were harassed due to our school affiliation, which quickly escalated to verbally abusive language based on our race and ethnicity. We felt overwhelmingly discomfited and threatened on MSU’s campus. These experiences compromised our agency and safety.
“The day took a turn for the worse when we decided to check out a tailgate by the tennis courts, next to the Spartan stadium. Afterwards, with just me and my brother walking back, our apparel had already caught the eyes of State fans, enough for us to get decently grilled. We initially laughed it off until we heard “Fuck you, Michigan Asians!” And just like that, what seemed to be playful remarks became pure disrespect. This wouldn’t be the last time we heard racist language directed at us on our way back. Verbal attacks along these lines were continually tossed at us during our walk, such as “Fucking Michigan Asians,” “Fuck you, Asians,” and “Fuck Michigan Asians.”
While any U of M student may have been singled out on that day, harassment for us did not stop at our school affiliation but was complicated and exacerbated by our social identities. We were not granted the privilege of white Michigan students who didn’t have to worry about being targeted for anything but their Maize and Blue apparel. VSA believes that the aggressors do not get a free pass because they wore State colors, were men, were white and/or intoxicated.
“What shocked me the most was when a girl wearing Maize apparel walked past us saying, “I’d say GO BLUE to you guys, if you weren’t Asian.” And there you have it, racial hatred from both sides.”
As an organization, we do not condone racist behavior from any student, faculty, staff, and persons in and beyond our environment. To excuse this behavior as belonging exclusively to MSU is problematic, for that tactic distances ourselves from the issue. What was hurtful to members of VSA was that the racial discrimination came from some of our fellow Wolverines.
This confirms our suspicions that there are affiliates of UofM who do not deem us as equal members of the Michigan community due to our racial identity. Maize and Blue are our colors, the University of Michigan is our school, and the Wolverines are our team, just as much as any student or fan can lay claim to. The fact that we have to fear for our safety because of both the colors we wear and the colors of our skin is something we find unacceptable. We are part of the University just as much as it is a part of us, and our experience should not be devalued by those who cannot fathom that we too love and are a part of this school.
We, as the Vietnamese Student Association at UofM, do not condone these behaviors, nor will we support this continued ostracism throughout our Michigan community. As our members continue to heal from this incident, we look forward and build solidarity within our organization. We recognize the perseverance of people of color on our campus whose experiences range from micro-aggressions to racial slurs.
We work towards building a safe space, not only within VSA but throughout our entire Michigan community. All experiences of students are valid and should not be ignored and dismissed due to the intersection of our identities. This is a belief that we hold dear, and is something we will continue to vocalize and affirm. We ask all students to continually reflect and understand their privilege, particularly at our school, and to share their understanding to our campus and beyond. We ask administrators, faculty, and staff to partner with students who are already supporting and sustaining safe spaces on campus. All events, including football games, should not compromise these spaces, to ensure the wellbeing of all students. We encourage all Asian/Pacific Islander Americans, including those experiencing the intersectionality of their marginalized identities, to feel empowered and voice their struggles with anti-Asian sentiment on this campus and beyond. Let us claim our experiences and let our narratives be heard. We will continue to do our part in making sure our space on campus is respected and valued.
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University of Michigan Vietnamese Student Association