With President Donald Trump referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus,” some Plattsburgh State students were concerned that would open the door for more discrimination against Asian Americans.
Senior business major Tuan Tran, who was using the Student Association shuttle service March 18, took to Instagram to share what he felt was an act of discrimination.
“This is the worst thing I’ve experienced during my 4 years at SUNY Plattsburgh,” Tran wrote.
According to Tran, who rode the shuttle to get groceries,he was asked by a shuttle driver to move to the back to “make the least contact with people.”
He sat in the first row behind the driver seat, and he said the driver immediately pulled up his hoodie. However, the driver was fine with another student, who wasn’t Asian, sitting in the front seat. He thought the driver had an issue with him being Asian.
After he got his groceries at Walmart, he took the shuttle to return to campus, which was driven by the same driver as before. He sat in the seat like last time and was asked again to move away. As he got off the shuttle, he said he confronted the driver about the incident, but the driver just laughed and said he was the one who had a problem.
“I was seriously insulted, so I was angry,” Tran said.
He held his frustration in until he got off the shuttle. This wasn’t the first time he was discriminated against in Plattsburgh.
When Tran went to Walmart with his friends, he encountered a white girl, who appeared to be about five years old, tell her sister to “move quickly or you’ll get the virus.” By the time he left, he saw a woman, who was sitting in her car, give him and his friends a look and rolled up their window. As soon as they left, the woman rolled the window down.
Unsure where to go, Tran turned to his friend who worked at PSU’s Title IX office. Tran’s friend recommended he write an anonymous report. Instead, he posted a story on Instagram detailing his experience soon after. He didn’t want to stay anonymous. From there, friends shared the story with the SA.
The SA asked Tran for his side of the story and how to contact him. He later received a call from the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, Michelle Cromwell. As Tram spoke with Cromwell, University Police came to his door.
“It was pretty fast. I didn’t expect that,” Tram said.
Cromwell said they wanted to ensure Tran was safe, and that he was feeling emotionally and physically all right. UP also checked to make sure there was no crime committed during the incident.
Cromwell later had a Zoom meeting with representatives from five Asian culture clubs at PSU to craft the message posted on the college’s website for the campus community.
“We had powerful, compassionate and honest conversation on discrimination,” Cromwell said. “We don’t want the message to be tone-deaf and vague.”
Cromwell also said it is important to have students involved in the conversation and put out a strong statement, as it isn’t just for the students but also for the campus community.
“We at SUNY Plattsburgh stand with our Chinese students, faculty, staff and other community members of other Asian descent. I want them to know they are seen and they are valued,” Cromwell said. “We have zero-tolerance against xenophobia and racial discrimination.”
Cromwell said their role is to educate and to help the campus community understand how the driver’s actions affected the students.
According to Cromwell, investigations take time and with social distancing being in place, most of the staff have to work remotely, which is slowing down the process. Cromwell also said they are working collaboratively with other offices to figure out the outcome of this incident.
“We will continue to reach out. We don’t want the campus community to be in black hole and not knowing what’s happening,” Cromwell said. “They should know what’s the outcome and where we landed.”
Tran wants the driver to understand the problem and open his mind. He believes the driver’s action does not create a safe environment for the students, especially the Asian students. Tran also believes PSU is handling the situation seriously as students are concerned about the incident.
“I want the school to make a big impact on this, which I believe would help the community of students of color to feel safe and comfortable,” Tran said.
Tran said while it is more important now to focus on finding the cure for the coronavirus than to speak up about discrimination, he thinks the two problems are related.
“This is not the time for discrimination. We have to exercise compassion, empathy and Cardinal spirits to take care of each other,” Cromwell said.