The seniors of the Vietnamese Student Association have taken great time to collect all accounts of what happened during the VSA Barbecue on April 17 in order to create a clear timeline of events. Unfortunately, we believe the article previously written by a Daily Pennsylvanian reporter (04/27/15) is a misrepresentation of the events that occurred during Fling as well as our response to those events. We are submitting this opinion piece in order to better contextualize what transpired.
The VSA Barbecue took place on the porch of a house on 41st and Spruce streets. On the day of the barbecue, several different groups of white students walked by making racially insensitive statements such as “Wo ai ni” and “Ni hao.” Other individuals made racist gestures, such as pulling their eyes to create “slanted eyes.”
When students came up to our porch and demanded a burger, they were told the barbecue was a closed event for members of VSA. One of the groups responded with comments such as “What? Just because I don’t look like you guys means I can’t get a burger?” We repeated that the barbecue was a closed event. At that point, a black student donning an Oz Fling tank, commented that he “watches anime” and “eats rice.” (We would like to emphasize that this individual was not the main instigator of all the events that occurred.)
At about 3 p.m., this same black student returned with other people we presume to be his friends or fraternity brothers and continued to harass our organization. One of the white students came up to the porch and said “Remember me?” We respectfully told him to leave the property, but he and two other white males refused.
The argument escalated as more students began walking up onto the porch. Several people on the street joined in, and a mob soon formed around our porch. A group of people in particular began chanting, “F**k you chinks,” and one individual threw his drink, splashing several of our VSA members with alcohol.
Another individual had grabbed one of our members’ wrists and proceeded to say “F**k you, Asian bitch.” Threats were exchanged between both parties. Eventually, the situation de-escalated when we expressed the possibility of calling law enforcement.
The altercation made VSA members feel cornered and attacked, which is why we decided to pursue the issue. A letter was sent to all VSA members to discuss what happened and get opinions from more members as to where to go from there.
Before a decision was made, VSA was sent an email from the black student of OZ who apologized for his behavior but also seemed to recall a friendlier exchange than what we know to be the truth. We did not believe this apology to be sincere, but we responded that we were waiting to have a meeting with our members before anything else. At no point did VSA state that we were not open to have a dialogue with OZ about the incident.
We also received emails from administrators who had heard about the incident and wanted to talk with us about how we felt and different courses of actions. VSA never wanted to make this a discussion only between OZ and VSA, nor do we believe this is a black-Asian issue as the previously written article might imply. We wanted to use these incidents as an opportunity to bring awareness to how minorities are often treated on campus and call for more sensitivity and understanding from members of the Penn community.
We chose not to pursue criminal charges as an organization because we wanted the aftermath to focus around education and awareness rather than punishment. For that reason, we suggested that individual members who felt strongly affected by the incident to pursue charges separately.
What we faced is not an isolated incident of racism. Time and time again, we have witnessed acts of racial prejudice committed against people of color, both on campus and in the nation’s communities at large. The incidents are too many to count.
In 2011, a black student named Christopher Abreu wrote in the DP about his encounter with a group of white students who confronted him with racially prejudicial remarks. Two years ago, a student named Dephanie Jao and two friends were approached by a group of students from Drexel University on Locust Walk, who attempted to kiss them forceably as part of a scavenger hunt item to “hook up with three Asians.” And this past December, a campus fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, published a Christmas card of its members posing alongside a dark-skinned female blow up doll. These incidents remind us of the systemic nature of racism and of the constant burden that people of color themselves must shoulder to voice and justify their hurt. By having our story told, we wish to support those voices that have come before us.
VSA is one of the more diverse cultural organizations at Penn, and we pride ourselves in that. As an organization, we wish to protect our members from racial violence and discrimination. Asian Americans are often seen as the “passive voice” in these conversations concerning race, but we believe that this is the time to stand together. We ask all those who value a more inclusive campus to stand in solidarity with us.
PATRICK VINH is a recent College graduate from Philadelphia who studied fine arts. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
TAN CHAN is a LPS graduate student from Hialeah, Fla. studying urban environmental studies. Her email address is email@example.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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