By Bailey Morrison
On April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and wounded 17 others in one of the worst mass shootings in recent U.S. history. Two years later, on the same campus, graduate student Haiyang Zhu beheaded graduate student Xin Yang in an Au Bon Pain on Jan. 21, 2009.
These two violent incidents are what motivated Daisy Ball, sociology professor, to “dig deep” into the social, political and societal influences of Asian Americans and crime. She said because Asian Americans are one of “the most underrepresented minorities,” she wanted to address legal issues facing the community.
Ball and Ke Li, professor of sociology, presented their collaborative work on Ball’s new book, “Model Minority or Criminal Threat? Asian Americans at Virginia Tech following Horrific Crimes,” on Wednesday, March 29 in the Ecumenical Center as part of the Authors and Artists showcase.
Ball began her research for her book with her co-editor Nicholas Hartlep, and reached out to Li, who wrote a chapter that discussed the impact media coverage has on Asian-American crime. Ball interviewed 18 Asian-American Virginia Tech undergraduate students to analyze the racial and social implications of widely publicized crimes committed by Asian Americans.
She said she wanted to see what the setting was like for Asian Americans at Virginia Tech and “what it was like to be in their space, in their campus climate after the crimes occurred.” Both perpetrators were of Asian-American descent.
She said many of her interviewees had no experience with violent or negative racial stereotypes, but they were often “saddled” with the “myth of the model minority,” an idea that stems from the stereotypes that Asian Americans will do well in school, hold jobs that are financially rewarding and become “conformists” in an American society.
Ball added the problem with this stereotype is it does not accurately reflect the Asian-American community and brings unrealistic expectations to young people within the community. She cited one interview where the subject told her she had pulled her first all-nighter when she was in the third grade.
Ball’s book also encompasses the impact graffiti has on the underrepresented group. She said when she documented desktop graffiti at Virginia Tech, much of it carried “anti-Asian-American sentiment. ... How would you feel after looking at those images on a desk for 50 minutes?”
Li said her involvement in the book is “out of her comfort zone.” She addressed the issues Asian Americans face when being reported on by the media in her chapter, “Anonymous Victims and Invisible Communities: U.S. Media Portrayals of Chinese International Students involved in Homicide.”
She said this topic is important to her because she came to the United States as an international student.
Chinese international students are currently the largest group of international students due to a rise of an emerging middle class in China, Li added.
Li said in her research she collected data, including 84 news articles that chronicled five different homicide cases between 2009 and 2015. This data led her to see that in these cases, “the news media, although rarely engaging in blatant racism or xenophobia, has remained taciturn in the face of subtle stereotypes of Chinese nationals.”
She said part of the problem facing international students is the lack of support from higher education institutions when they are adjusting to life away from their home country.
“They are eager to get the students through recruitment ... but are not doing enough to support them while they’re getting used to this new environment,” said Li.
Ball said she hopes for her book to be published in the fall of 2017.