ASU geographers and urban planners support one another in the face of anti-Asian hate

Listening session, community research among ways the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning community leverages strengths in pursuit of a more equitable and inclusive future

April 16, 2021

As reports of anti-Asian hate crimes have escalated across the country in recent months, nearly two dozen students, faculty and staff in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University gathered virtually to share their experiences facing anti-Asian discrimination and to provide support to one another.

Hosted by the school’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) committee, the “Stop Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate” listening session was created to provide a safe space for students, faculty and staff in the wake of violence against Asian and Asian American minorities, including the Atlanta mass shooting in which a gunman killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent. The School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning recently held a “Stop Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate” listening session to provide a safe space for students, faculty and staff. Download Full Image

“For a particular unit like our school, our JEDI committee felt a statement alone wouldn’t help people take a stance,” said Wei Li, professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and the associate director of JEDI. “We need to hear from people, their own voices, what they’ve experienced, what they think we should do in terms of anti-racism and also how we can help each other to make a safe environment and the people in it feel comfortable to share what they think and what they experience.”

Siqiao Xie, a geography PhD student in the school, attended the session.

“I've been living in rather isolated conditions during the pandemic, and the recent rise of anti-Asian hate crimes and my own experience gave me a lot of mental pressure,” Xie said. “I really needed some support from my peers and an outlet for my emotions. I think this listening session was a very good opportunity.” 

The listening session opened with a brief introduction by Li around the historical and contemporary context of anti-Asian racism in the U.S., then gave way to an open floor in which individuals spoke about their personal experiences with racial discrimination, anecdotes of hope, and stories of peers stepping in when confronted with racial hate. Together, the community of participants asked and addressed how they best could support one another.

“I was angry and saddened to hear about some of the experiences our students have had. At the same time, I was uplifted by stories of support and love in the face of hateful words and actions,” said Rebecca Reining, who attended the session and is a staff member in the school. “These spaces are important because they allow for an open sharing of ideas, without judgment. I think it’s important to offer these spaces without expectation. It isn’t the responsibility of Asian, Black or Latino individuals to do the emotional labor of educating the rest of us.” 

As anti-Asian hate crimes rise, researchers act 

Wei Li

In the past year, hate crimes against Asians and Asian-Americans have risen exponentially, in part because of widely used harmful and inaccurate rhetoric blaming Asians for the spread of COVID-19. More than 3,700 anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. were reported between March 2020 and February 2021, and in Phoenix alone, reported anti-Asian hate crimes rose by 50%

Over that time, researchers across ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning have been leveraging their academic expertise to examine whether and how Asian Americans are disproportionately under more risk during COVID-19 through a spatial and social science lens. 

In a recently accepted research chapter co-authored by Xie, Li and Yining Tan, a geography PhD student in the School, the team analyzed Asian American social vulnerability, COVID-19 infections and deaths, and increased records of anti-Asian hate crimes across the U.S. during the pandemic to reveal and visualize associations and geographical patterns.

Additionally, in a separate study, Li, who also has a joint academic appointment in the School of Social Transformation, is collaborating with ASU researchers Angela Chia-Chen Chen, associate professor in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, and Karen Leong, associate professor in the School of Social Transformation, to conduct a series of studies that shed light into individual Asian experiences locally in the Phoenix metro during the pandemic. 

In the group’s research, they interviewed and surveyed Asian and Asian Americans in three key constituent groups — minority nurses, college students and metro Phoenix community leaders — to better understand how individuals have been impacted by COVID-19 while simultaneously fighting stereotypes and negative stigmas within their daily lives. 

By bringing these discrepancies and social vulnerabilities of Asian and Asian Americans to light, Li hopes to provide information to government and community stakeholders that can help guide resource allocation efforts for future planning. 

“We hope to have these policy implications, so government agencies know where exactly a particular group of the vulnerable population need resources to prepare for a future pandemic and also to curb the spread of COVID-19 at present,” Li said. 

A community moving forward together 

The School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning is continuing to build on its efforts to strengthen its culture dedicated to inclusivity and equity by standing by its students, its faculty and its staff in meaningful ways. 

The school recently was selected as a recipient of ASU’s Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship Program and the university’s newly established Doctoral Student Cluster in Race, Place and Equitable Communities program, which together starting in fall 2021 will fund a total of four scholars of color — two postdoctoral fellows and two graduate students — in geography or urban planning over two years to help increase the diversity of the faculty and student body in the school.

Additionally, the school’s JEDI committee is working to implement actions to create an environment in which Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) students, faculty and staff can feel supported and thrive. The JEDI committee is evaluating potential future training on implicit bias and anti-racism. 

“Yes, we got this funding, we have the first cohort of BIPOC postdocs and graduate students coming together, but the work doesn’t stop there,” Li said. “If we don't continue to talk about race, if we don't do anti-racism work, when they come can we guarantee their success? Can they feel like they are truly welcome? Their experience matters. Their voice matters.” 

In the immediate future, Li says that the school’s Stop AAPI hate listening session’s success is encouraging for the JEDI committee as they plan to host periodical “JEDI coffee hours” where the school’s community can openly and freely chat with peers in a safe space. 

“We’re pleased about our listening session. It reinforced the JEDI committee’s thoughts that we need a safe space to allow people to be able to just speak up, just say what they feel, and for the rest of us to listen,” Li said. “That way we can better understand other people's experiences, be it individual or in a group, and collectively we can do something to keep making our school better.” 

David Rozul

Communications Specialist, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


Justice studies grad reflects on seizing opportunities, overcoming imposter syndrome

April 16, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

As Tylie DiBene prepares to graduate from Arizona State University this spring, she has a message of gratitude and thanks to the university that she said provided her some of the greatest years of her life. Tylie DiBene Tylie DiBene will graduate from Arizona State University this spring with a bachelor’s degree in justice studies, a minor in criminology and criminal justice and a minor in women and gender studies. Download Full Image

“Thank you for teaching me to be the person that I am, giving me the confidence to follow and chase my dreams. If it weren't for being in such a great and accepting community, I don't think I'd be where I am today and going for the goals that I had set for myself a long time ago,” said DiBene, who will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in justice studies, a minor in criminology and criminal justice and a minor in women and gender studies.

Having grown up in Nogales, Arizona, DiBene said many of her peers went to the University of Arizona due to proximity. But she had her heart set on ASU and quickly built a community at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“I was very fortunate to build my community right before I came to ASU. I enrolled in the Early Start program for justice studies and through that I was able to connect with professors, peers within my college and set a foundation,” she said.

DiBene’s involvement on campus continued over the next four years through ASU’s First-Year Success coaching and as a chartering member of the Alpha Omicron Pi chapter at ASU.

“My involvement in Greek life and Greek life leadership has impacted my ASU experience by teaching me more about myself and my ability to be a leader. I gained such a strong community and it taught me to be the best version of myself and shaped me into the person I was always meant to be,” she said.

DiBene shared more about her experiences at ASU:

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I decided to come to ASU really early on. I’m from Nogales, Arizona, which is about an hour away from Tucson; everybody was going to the University of Arizona and I was the stubborn one saying, “No, I'm going to go to ASU, I love ASU.” I ultimately made the decision in my senior year of high school when I toured the campus and I saw how great it was and I was able to speak to so many people and learn about all of the resources ASU had and the different options that I had for my career and major paths. Actually being on campus and seeing it and seeing so many friendly faces made me decide that this was the community I wanted to be in.

Q: How did philanthropy impact your ASU experience?

A: I received a scholarship coming out of high school from the Nogales scholarship association and one in college from the Phoenix Panhellenic Association. Both scholarships were so important to me because it tied me back to the communities I am most passionate about and helped in furthering my education. In receiving both scholarships, I felt that I had a community that believed in me and trusted in the fact that I would make the most out of my education.

Q: Did you have an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study your major(s) or what drew you to the degree program?

A: My senior year of high school, when I was looking into the different degrees that I could go into, I knew that I wanted to do something that would help people. I was looking at different career options online and found justice studies. I researched it a little bit and saw that it was all about social justice and figuring out how the world works for people and how we navigate it and how we can make it a better place for everyone with different identities. That made me decide that this is exactly what I wanted to go into. Especially since at a very young age, I realized that I wanted to go to law school. I wanted to be the defense attorney to help people that don't always have the voice amplification that they need. With justice studies, I knew that that was exactly what I needed to do to get to where I want it to be.

Q: What opportunities or classes have helped prepare you for your future career?

A: Fall of 2019, I took Justice 465 Death Penalty in the U.S. with Professor Susan Corey. Taking class with her was really important for me because it gave me a lot of insight as to what the job of a criminal defense attorney really entails and the type of people that I would be helping, and ultimately why I want to go into that field.

Q: Did you experience any obstacles along your way? If yes, how did you overcome them?

A: A lot of the obstacles that I experienced were related to imposter syndrome that I had. I was constantly looking at my peers and thinking: They're working at law firms; they're doing internships. I had a lot of moments where I took a step back and asked, “Am I supposed to be here? Am I smart enough to be here? Am I good enough to be here? Do I belong here?” What helped me overcome that is actually becoming a First-Year Success coach. Talking to students who were like me, feeling the same things, and then telling them that they do belong here helped me teach myself the same lesson.

Q: What was the most valuable lesson or skill you learned while at ASU?

A: The most valuable lesson that I learned at The College was actually taught to me by my First-Year Success coach, Aishwarya. I went into a meeting with her and was feeling really anxious because all of my peers were already looking into internships and job opportunities. I explained this to her and she reminded me that my path is completely unique to me — at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what my peers are doing because whatever I do is going to lead me to where I need to be and I just need to focus on that. That was life-changing for me.

Q: What message or advice would you share for future first-year students?

A: Enjoy every single moment. Your four years go by quicker than high school. I know in high school, we all thought that was the fastest thing ever, but in reality college is. There are so many opportunities — there's clubs and organizations, job opportunities, resources with your professors, study abroad and research opportunities — that you can go into. So do that, take every chance you can. But with that being said, always evaluate yourself. Always make sure that you're not pushing yourself to an extent that you can't go, because if you don't rest, your body will pick a date to rest and it won't be the most convenient of times. Know that it's OK to take a break.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I was going to go into law school right after undergrad in fall 2021 but then the pandemic happened and I just realized that I needed to take a step back and kind of regain my steps, find myself again. So I found a really great job opportunity as a legal assistant and after graduation I will work there full time and prepare for law school in fall of 2022.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences