Faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System, in New York City, circulated an internal memo on Monday again condemning “all forms of racism, bigotry, and hate” in the wake of a racially motivated attack last week on an Asian student near the medical school campus.
The memo was signed by Kenneth L. Davis, MD, president and chief executive officer of Mount Sinai Health System, Dennis S. Charney, MD, dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Gary C. Butts, MD, chief diversity and inclusion officer for the Mount Sinai Health System.
The student, who asked that her name be withheld for safety reasons, told Medscape Medical News she was walking near campus midmorning on February 15 when a man shouting “Chinese virus” grabbed her by the hair, took her phone, and kicked her to the ground as several bystanders looked on. She called out for help, and a woman called 911, the student said.
The student reported the incident to police and to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Days later, she and other students gathered signatures on a letter asking for several actions from the school.
The requests include providing bystander training to all students and increased campus security.
The student said that although their concerns were addressed to Mount Sinai’s administration, she hopes other medical schools will take notice and offer support and protection for Asian students, particularly as racial tensions rise during the pandemic.
She said Asians in the United States are commonly stereotyped according to the “model minority” myth, in which they are assumed to have high socioeconomic status and education, and therefore reports of discrimination are discounted. The students’ letter also asked that the school include the “model minority” myth in curriculum.
“We tend to minimize our pain because of the ‘model minority’ myth,” she said. “We don’t want to take up space for other minority groups.”
She said that historically, Asians have been excluded from discussions about discrimination and xenophobia.
Attacks against Asian people during the pandemic are well documented, especially in large cities.
Mount Sinai issued a memo at the start of the pandemic, on April 6: “We are saddened and alarmed to hear of increasing instances taking place in our city, our country, and around the world of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian scapegoating and xenophobic reactions, including fear, exclusion, microaggressions, and other racist behaviors related to COVID-19.
“There is no tolerance for this behavior in our community,” the memo continued. “We are writing to express our deep and unwavering support for each and every one of our students, staff, faculty, and patients, and ask that you take a moment to reach out to your friends and colleagues with a word of support or encouragement during these unprecedented times. The biggest comfort in times like these is often the support we receive from family, friends, or other loved ones.”
According to the Queens Chronicle in New York City, the New York Police Department said that in 2019, only one anti-Asian incident was reported. By comparison, 20 were reported in the first half of 2020.
The attacks have escalated in recent months.
On January 28, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, who immigrated from Thailand, was shoved to the ground while taking his morning walk in San Francisco in what was reported as a hate crime. He died 2 days later, according to CNN and other news reports.
ABC reports that in the San Francisco Bay Area in early February, there were a string of nearly two dozen violent attacks against Asians and Asian Americans.
CBS’ Los Angeles affiliate reports that “Asian-American hate incidents in California have risen by 115% in Los Angeles County, 150% in San Jose, and 200% in Orange County during the pandemic.”
Mount Sinai’s faculty memo on Monday reiterated its focus on support and understanding: “We encourage each member of the Mount Sinai community to offer support to your friends and colleagues during these challenging times, and to join us as we continue to engage in dialogue and action so that we may deepen our understanding of, and ability to address, racism.”
Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune and Nurse.com and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick.
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