YSU students concerned about anti-Asian discrimination

By Jillian McIntosh

International student Verena Son, a junior art major from South Korea, has experienced discrimination since coming to Youngstown State University.

“In McDonald’s on the campus … they were kids … they [were] just like, ‘Ching Chang Chong’ to me. It was like, ‘Oh my God, do they know this is actual racism?’” Son said.

Others have looked at her appearance, slowed their speech and assumed her race.

“I also had an issue with Uber. Once I got Uber, I kept getting canceled by the drivers,” Son said. 

She said her trouble with securing a ride came after the former U.S. president stressed the connection between COVID-19 to China.

Examples of microaggression:

  • Speaking slowly
  • Assuming one’s race
  • Making remarks on their English accent
  • Making stereotypical jokes
  • “Your English is very good.”
  • “So, you’re Chinese right?”
  • [Speaking a foriegn language randomly]
  • “Oh you look ‘Americanized,’ you’ve changed. It looks good, that’s good.”

“After the pandemic, I didn’t know how much it [racism] would be huge still,” she said. “I feel scared because I see a lot of newspapers that read, ‘Asian students got attacked on the street.’”

YSU police Chief Shawn Varso said there have been no reports of hate or biased crime against the Asian community at YSU.

“A hate crime is any criminal action against an individual or their property by using as a reason for it against somebody’s gender identity, race, sexual orientation, national origin and [being a] veteran,” according to Varso.

However, Nicole Kent-Strollo, dean of students, said she’s concerned about racism that is not reported or seen publicly, and because some people may not be aware their statements or actions are discriminatory. 

“I’m always concerned about what I don’t see. That is so common, especially in the setting that we are in,” she said. “We have students who are clearly dealing with professors, potentially, who are superiors.” 

YSU offers multiple resources to support students who believe they’re experiencing discrimination on and off campus, Kent-Strollo said.

The Penguin of Concern form on the website should be filed in cases of discrimination, Kent-Strollo said. It also addresses racial bias, microaggressions, assault and behavioral concerns involving mental health. 

Varso said a student who believes they’ve been a victim of a criminal action should immediately contact the police department at 330-941-3527.

“I would tell the person to contact us and we can be there in a matter of seconds in some aspects,” Varso said. 

He also said if a student witnesses an incident, they should be aware of the safety of the person being discriminated against, as well as their own safety. 

“If it is something where it’s a violent action, the best thing you can do is call the police department. We can come over and intervene,” Varso said. “If it is not, speak up for the individual and document as much as possible.”

He advises taking pictures, videos and getting information such as names. These can be used as evidence. 

For Son and other international students, distinguishing what microaggressions are can be difficult.

“And a lot of international students will get confused because we get through a lot [moving alone to a different country], and sometimes we just don’t understand because we just came here,” Son said.

Students can file a report to the YSU Concern Assessment Referral Education team by visiting ysu.edu/student-affairs/care-team. Families of students, faculty, staff and community members can file a report as well.