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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Online Racism Toward Asian-American College Students

On March 7, Doctoral Candidate in Higher Education from Boston College Kevin Gin visited the UMass Boston campus to talk about his doctoral thesis that addresses online racism faced by Asian American students on college campuses and the sense of belonging of this group of students.

The event was sponsored by the Institute for Asian American Studies (IAAS) located right here on the University of Massachusetts Boston campus. The institute was originally founded in 1993 and has since conducted valuable research on Asian Americans in order to “strengthen and further Asian American involvement in political, economic, social, and cultural life, and to improve opportunities and campus life for Asian American faculty, staff, and students,” according to their official website.

Gin, who is also one of the research fellows at IAAS, pointed out during his presentation that even though today’s society is the most connected in history, there is still room for research to explore the effects of social media on individuals further in the future.

While social platform provide many positive opportunities for people nowadays, there is also a dark side to it. “Racism in virtual form” has become an increasing issue, but we still often do not know how the affected population is influenced by it.

In his research, Gin focused on college students as his group of interest. Since most students use multiple social media platforms, the resulting “online interaction contributes a lot how [they] experience campus life,” he explains. During the research process, Gin interviewed a number of students at a private, highly selective, urban, religiously affiliated, and predominantly white university, for which he used the name “East Oak University” in his thesis. The group of participants included several ethnicities, such as Chinese, Filipino, and Indian. Furthermore, the research also collected evidence from online interactions that showed racialized aggression toward Asian students.

The overall goal of Gin’s research was to find out how racialized hostilities that are expressed online affect the perception of Asian American students as being a part of the campus community and as feeling welcomed at school.

During his speech, Gin said that Asians are often seen as outsiders, even though the race-based oppression is not always immediately evident. Furthermore, the attitude on social media toward this group in society is that they are often the center of jokes because there is the assumption in society that “everyone has a free pass to laugh at Asians,” Gin recalled one of his interviewees saying.

However, the anonymity of certain social media platforms, such as YikYak, has made it possible to more open, direct racialized aggression towards Asian Americans among other groups of society.

“We can no longer ignore that racism exists online,” Gin explains. Similar to real life, “whiteness is used as the defining construct” in online spaces and used to engage in devaluation of anyone and anything that does not fit into that narrow but dominating definition of culture.

Gin states that here institutional accountability is central to not alienate Asian Americans and support them in their educational experience. Furthermore, social media should also be used as a tool to counter racism online and foster inclusion. One possible strategy would be to support counter spaces, such as blogs or online campaigns, that provide support for Asian Americans.

Currently, Gin is working on a study measuring social trauma.