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BU responds to Atlanta shootings

boston university president robert brown's email to students about recent shootings in atlanta
Boston University President Robert Brown’s Thursday email statement regarding shootings in Atlanta last week and anti-Asian racism. The College of Communication, College of Arts and Sciences and other individual BU schools also issued statements regarding the Atlanta shootings. HANNAH YOSHINAGA/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

As the United States grapples with the shootings that occurred last week in Atlanta and the rise in violence against Asian Americans that has followed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Boston University has issued a number of responses.

The shootings, which many speculate were racially motivated, occurred Tuesday at three massage parlors in Atlanta. Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, killed eight people: Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim and Yong Ae Yue. Six of the victims were Asian women.

BU President Robert Brown issued a University-wide response Thursday in a letter to the community.

“While it is premature to draw conclusions,” Brown wrote, “we are nonetheless horrified at the loss of life and deeply concerned that we may have witnessed another crime driven by hate. We condemn acts of violence and we condemn acts of violence motivated by prejudice.”

Apart from Brown’s letter to the BU community, several deans from different BU colleges have also released their own individualized statements.

BU spokesperson Colin Riley said the BU administration does not mandate responses from individual colleges in the wake of significant events. Rather, it is up to each dean to decide whether they should issue a message and what actions should be taken for their community.

“Deans oversee their schools, and some things rise to their attention,” Riley said. “In this case, feel it’s appropriate to either echo what the University has said, or put out something specific to their school or college.”

College of Communication Dean Mariette DiChristina sent an email to her college Thursday as well.

In her letter, DiChristina condemned the violence in Atlanta and listed a number of initial responses COM is taking to “support change.”

“To some extent, we are always having conversations about how to improve diversity, equity, inclusion at the college,” DiChristina said. “But when there’s a particular moment in time, that work acquires a special focus.”

One of the actionable steps DiChristina mentioned in her email is setting up an open space for students to discuss what occurred in Atlanta and other difficult topics during the next “Cheers and a Chat with the Dean” session March 31.

A virtual panel discussion relating to issues faced by Asian people in the communications field is also in the works, and a set of resources from the Asian American Journalists Association has been shared with COM faculty.

Another step DiChristina outlined was a “college-wide curriculum refresh,” she wrote in the email. While she said the school hasn’t been “too noisy about it yet,” COM has been working toward the refresh since DiChristina became dean a year and a half ago.

“It’s our ambition that within the next couple of years,” she said, “we will have given ourselves the right prompts and the right conversations to see at what level do we need to adjust the curriculum across the college.”

Prior to issuing her statement, DiChristina said she shared her letter with COM Student Government and COM DIRECT — which has recently changed their name from COM Diversity Equity Inclusion Student Group — to see if they had any suggestions to make it more effective.

COM junior Mira Dhakal currently serves as the president of COM DIRECT. She said her organization works with COM DEI’s faculty committee and helps provide a student perspective to larger conversations within COM.

In curating COM’s response last week, Dhakal said DiChristina was “super receptive” to the suggestions she made and enacted the changes prior to sending out her letter.

“When stepping into this role, I wasn’t sure how much freedom I was going to have to be able to actually enact meaningful changes,” Dhakal said. “I was just really pleasantly surprised but also excited about how open the dean and the rest of the faculty group has been to student feedback.”

Other colleges at BU also released independent statements in response to the attacks, including the College of General Studies and College of Arts and Sciences.

CGS Dean Natalie McKnight released an emailed statement Friday denouncing, “all acts of racial violence and exclusion.”

She also announced an upcoming CGS town hall Tuesday for her community to discuss the attacks in Atlanta and related issues.

CAS Dean Stan Sclaroff also released an emailed statement Thursday, which cited a study from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino that found anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 149% in the past year.

In regard to what individuals can do in times such as these, DiChristina said in an interview she hopes students feel encouraged to participate in creating the society “we want to see.”

“We all play an important role in creating the world we want to see,” DiChristina said, “and that has to do with what we say, and it also has to do with what we do.”

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