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Academia must face anti-Asian bigotry

This week’s issue includes an Editorial from Jennifer Lee and Tiffany Huang at Columbia University that addresses the devastating situation in the United States around anti-Asian violence and bigotry. Lee and Huang are sociologists who work toward “advancing new democratic narratives of Asian Americans, and placing the study of Asian Americans centrally in the discipline.” Although the racist rhetoric that former president Donald Trump used to describe COVID-19 intensified these problems, the antecedents of this bigotry are long standing.

Lee and Huang place the history of anti-Asian bias in America in historical context and then share hard truths about the reality of this bias in academia. They provide sobering statistics about the paucity of Asian Americans in leadership positions in US universities. Then they challenge us to intensify efforts to provide teaching and scholarship on Asia and Asian Americans in US universities. From my time in university administration, I know this progress has been too slow. We desperately need more scholars of Asia and Asian American humanities and social science. Universities need to emphasize these fields at the graduate level and simultaneously build undergraduate instruction. Of course, these ideas must make their way into K-12 education and the public discourse, but we know from history that these disciplines need to start in universities with a rigorous academic basis.

Anti-Black racism has rightfully received a lot of attention over the past year, owing to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. But we must broaden our ideas of equity to address the long-standing anti-Asian bigotry that has plagued science. The statistics in Lee and Huang’s article and the overreaction of the federal funding agencies in precipitously ending US collaboration with China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology and selectively targeting Asian American researchers reveal that the problems are right here in the world of science.