Spring scenes in Lancaster

Old Main at Franklin & Marshall College is pictured here.

THE ISSUE

“A vandal scratched a racial slur targeting Asians on a Franklin & Marshall College dorm room door ... alarming students and prompting a campuswide investigation,” LNP’s Alex Geli reported Saturday. “The vandalism, which occurred Sept. 26 inside Schnader Hall, follows an incident in which a student’s campaign poster on campus was defaced. ... And a poster with demeaning language about Asian culture was put on the college’s ‘protest tree’ last year.”

“We’re all angry. We all know some (Asian students) are not that welcome.”

So said Ann Liu, a junior psychology major from China, to LNP.

F&M administrators should be worried about a racist slur scratched on a dorm room door — any racist symbols or words can be unnerving, especially to members of a minority living away from home, away from the solidity and support of family and familiarity. On a campus where anti-Asian language has appeared before.

But we hope the college’s administrators also are asking a deeper question: Why have some Asian students gotten the impression that they’re “not that welcome”?

That’s the question we’d ask if we were parents of an Asian student — or any minority student — at F&M.

Why do they feel unwelcome? Who’s making them feel that way? How are unwelcoming attitudes allowed to persist?

Last year, a poster was hung on the F&M campus that trafficked pathetically in Asian stereotypes. If its authors had a clue, they would have known that Asian students — like members of any minority, or any community, for that matter — are not a monolith.

Some are first-generation Americans, some are second- and third-generation Americans (but still get asked, “Where are you from?” And when they respond, “Lancaster, Pennsylvania” or “New York City,” they get this follow-up question: “Where are you really from?”).

Some are of Chinese heritage — or Taiwanese, or Japanese, or Vietnamese, or Indian, or Filipino, or Korean, or Cambodian, etc. — but no matter which, they will be assumed to fit the mold of the so-called “model minority”: serious, studious, striving.

People will assume they’re excellent at math and science, even if their strengths lie in writing and the humanities. Asian men are generalized as weak, Asian women are fetishized as meek, and such stereotyping turns individuals into objects. Rendered emotionless, they’re supposed to simply take the jokes about Asian culture — its foods, its traditions — that come their way.

As if it was no big deal. As if racism is ever a joke.

A November 2017 study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NPR found that about a third of Asian Americans “have personally experienced racial or ethnic slurs,” and 35% have experienced “people making negative assumptions or insensitive or offensive comments about their race or ethnicity.”

Interestingly, 41% of Asian Americans with a college degree report having experienced insensitive or offensive comments about their race or ethnicity, compared to 25% of Asian Americans without a college degree.

What that means, we’re not sure. Asians are seen by some — in another stereotype — as more privileged than other minorities, but someone being targeted by a slur isn’t going to feel very privileged. And some Asians — like those who recently and unsuccessfully sued Harvard over affirmative action — feel they are held to more stringent standards of academic success.

So this is a complex subject.

Here’s what is not at all complicated: Students — all students — must feel safe on their college campuses. According to federal data, 5% of F&M’s 2,300 students are Asian.

We trust F&M takes racist incidents seriously. It’s hard to know for sure because the college barred an LNP reporter from campus.

We did appreciate the strong response of F&M President Barbara Altmann, who, in an email sent to the campus community, condemned the racist slur and urged anyone with information about it to come forward. She said the college’s public safety department is investigating the matter, as it must.

“I join with our campus community in condemning all incidents of intimidation and identity-based acts of hatred,” Altmann said. “Our values as an institution and as a community demand that we protect the dignity and security of all members of the College community from those who would use speech to deprive others of their freedom to learn or their freedom to fully contribute to and participate in our community.

“Words and images that are meant to demean, harass or intimidate others have no place in our community or in our world.”

Alas, at least one person on the F&M campus thinks otherwise.

Hence the anger, and the feeling of become unwelcome, to which Ann Liu referred.

She and Tina Chen, a junior economics major who’s also from China, told LNP that they sometimes feel isolated in classes because they struggle with some English words. Some students, they said, fail to accept them because of their differences.

Liu and Chen said outright racism is rare at F&M. But exclusion is a form of discrimination.

The college years are supposed to be when we venture outside our comfort zones to get to know people with life experiences, cultures, religions and politics that differ from our own.

If some F&M students are being made to feel uncomfortable because they hail from different countries or circumstances, or speak different native languages, that’s a problem the college must solve. As Altmann said herself, the “dignity and security” of all students must be protected.