Students surprised, scared by recent racist assault near campus
Corner of Capitol and Chemeketa St., where the racist assault occurred Mar. 1. Photo by Grace Shiffrin.
An Asian student was assaulted by two men just a few blocks away from campus on Mar. 1. This occurrence was shocking and unexpected for many students living both on and off campus, with varying emotions surrounding their safety both in the parameters of the university and within the city of Salem. Shortly after the hate crime occurred, Willamette sent out an email expressing their condolences regarding the situation and condemning the two mens’ actions and the racism attached to it. The email additionally listed on-campus resources for helping to support students and their wellbeing as well as some educational resources on anti-Asian violence.
The assault was largely surprising to students due to its close proximity to Willamette’s campus, but generally agreed that they weren’t surprised it occurred within the city of Salem as a whole. Riley Martin (‘23) said that she would expect it considering the proximity of the campus to the state capitol, but also shared that she “was just a little bit rattled to see that it was literally two blocks away from campus, and Willamette is supposed to be a safe place for students.” Chris Chang (‘23) offered a similar sentiment, saying “I said that I was surprised it happened, but… you know, it’s not like I never thought that it would happen.”
The response to the administration’s email was also a little mixed. Chang stated, “Honestly, I think putting the email out there pretty quickly was really good. It lets us, the students, know that our school cares, you know… they’re listening, and they’re watching over stuff.” Martin, on the other hand, felt that the school’s response was inadequate and said she, likely alongside other minority students on campus, felt they weren’t being heard enough, despite the liberal environment. She responded, “I do think that there could definitely be more effort put in on the admin’s part. And not just having [links to articles] say things for them, you know?”
Students also felt that the issue at hand is connected to the larger issue of racism in this country, particularly to the events of the last year. Chang said that although the concerning racist aggression can be seen almost everywhere, “the fact that [the issue is] also leaching into smaller areas is definitely worrisome.” Martin shared that she now worries about an incident similar to this one happening to her. She said, “I guess that I would be more likely to be singled out by someone, because there are not as many students of color as white students. And also, I was made aware the other day that there was an individual who thought it was me that was the student… that just speaks to the fact that there aren’t that many Asian students on campus.”
Though it is a difficult time for many, some students have been able to find pockets of joy through spending time with friends. Martin also shared that painting has been a fun pastime for her personally.
When students were asked what Willamette could do to prevent a similar occurrence from happening again, the general consensus was that this is a difficult issue to manage. Several students expressed concerns about their general safety on campus and off. Though the issue of racism is quite large and often can be beyond the university’s control, the administration is taking some steps to help contribute to a safer environment. A [safe ride service] that has been around for several years is now being offered to Willamette students free of cost when their compass card is shown to the driver. Martin also shared “I know Campus Safety offers pepper spray, and I went and got some of that after I heard about the hate crime.”
Even with the precautions Willamette has taken, many people remain concerned about incidents similar to this occurring again, and are unsure of their safety on campus. Martin shared that she often walks with her white male friends for safety, and Chang often travels to areas within Salem in groups.
When a statement was requested from the Willamette Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), the response was brief and simplistic: “The OMA condemns any acts of violence, intimidation, etc. whether it be racially motivated or not.”
An email was sent to the OMA community supporting and reinforcing the message sent by the VP of Student Affair (Lisa Landreman). This message was a collaborative effort with other administrators on campus including the OMA. The OMA and E&E have offered space for students who need a place to reflect, talk and share in a supportive community.”