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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Despite fear, campus Asians face no post-massacre backlash

Asian students at Virginia Tech university, where Korean-born Cho Seung-Hui killed 32 people, said Monday they felt no rebuke or blame from other students in the wake of the massacre.

"I think some Americans may think Asians are not good. But people at VT understand that Cho was mentally ill," said Boonta Chutvirasakul, an undergraduate from Bangkok, Thailand.

"There has not been any negative treatment of anyone," said Jing Wang, a computer science student originally from Xian, China who now lives in Sheldon, Connecticut.

"Twenty years ago maybe there would have been something, but not now," he said.

Out of some 26,000 full time undergraduate and graduate students, the state-run university counts some 1,800 Asians and Asian-Americans in its student body.

Many said they got worried when the media reported shortly after the shooting that the killer was Asian, and then one outlet reported incorrectly that the killer was Chinese.

Cho, who was born in South Korea but grew up in the Washington suburb of Centreville, Virginia, is one of a few hundred Koreans at the university -- most of whom fled the campus after the shooting out of fear.

Few of his fellow students, including the Korean community, knew anything about the angry loner who earlier this year bought two handguns and on April 16 unleased a rampage killing 27 students and five faculty before committing suicide.

Not only Asians saw cause for concern. On Friday the university sent out toughly-worded emails to all students and faculty calling for anyone to report even the slightest hint of anti-Asian sentiment.

And one professor who would not be named said last week that he was concerned how many undergraduate students would react to their Asian teaching assistants -- graduate students who take on lecturer roles -- when classes reopened Monday.

Rafael Jose Gonzales, a US citizen born in the Philippines and a second-year student at the university, said he worried at first that people might react badly against Asians at the rural southwestern Virginia college.

But he said that there was no sign of recriminations across the campus, and rejected the idea that there was anything specifically "Asian" about the tragedy, whatever the identity of the shooter.

"This is a reflection of the hardships that certain people go through. It just happened that he was Korean," he said.

But Asian students have gone out of their way to demonstrate they too felt the loss and that their sympathies were with the families of the dead, which included an Indonesian graduate student.

A South Korean group in Austin, Texas sent 33 vases of flowers -- including one for Cho -- to be placed in the university chapel two days after the massacre to demonstrate their sympathy.

On Friday the 600-strong association of students from China laid out white sheets on the drill field near the campus memorial to the dead and invited their members and anyone else to pen their condolences and thoughts on it.

"We feel the need to show our sympathy and our sadness," said Xue Hong, president of the association and a doctorate candidate in economics.

"Some Asian people are worried about their safety. But most people treat this tragedy as individual behavior."

"There is always someone who will see it racial," he added.

Mental health professionals said in a counseling session days after the massacre that they worried about anger directed at Asian students from people in the greater Blacksburg community without direct links to the university.

That sentiment was reflected by a local Bangkok-born restaurateur, Thanadoul Khunngam.

"I don't want people to think all Asians are bad," he said. —AFP [Link]


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