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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 5.3.07

Virginia Tech Backlash

BY JOSEPH A. LIEBERMAN

Maybe it's always there, just below the surface, but we expect better of our college students. Still, this is Oregon, which as a territory in the 1840s rejected slavery but voted 8-1 to ban African-Americans from legally living here via the infamous Exclusion Laws (not removed from the state constitution until 1926). This is the place where in the early 1900s, the UO refused to allow interracial rooming for women. And until 1953, Medford and Roseburg maintained unwritten "Sundown Laws" declaring that all minorities must vacate populated areas by sunset. The state's Prohibition of Intermarriage Law continued until 1959.

So maybe we shouldn't be surprised that in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre by Korean-American Seung-hui Cho, Asian residents in Lane County — including UO students — have been the target of intimidation.

On April 25, Eugene's Asian community representative David Tam gave a press conference to announce that several local Asian citizens "have received very serious threats," adding, "Some are living in fear — they asked that we not give specifics."

Tam feels there has definitely been a Virginia Tech backlash both here and across the nation.

"We want to prevent this kind of stereotyping," he said.

Never mind the fact that of around 100 U.S. and Canadian school shooters since 1974, only four had any Asian heritage, three were black and one was Native American. Educated white males carry out 95 percent of such attacks, but logic does not apply here.

In this most violent of Western nations, the temptation to blame an entire class of foreigners for the brutal acts of a few individuals has a long pedigree. It happened after Pearl Harbor, although no one suggested interning German-Americans at that time for ongoing Nazi atrocities. It happened after 9/11, although no one suggested profiling all Caucasian gun-loving military veterans after Timothy McVeigh's Oklahoma City bombing ended the lives of 168 people and injured more than 500 in 1995.

A few Asian students at the UO and at other campuses around the state have found themselves being the recipients of shunning and nasty shouts of "Go home!"

UO exchange student Renaka S. told me, "Three times, walking in Allen Hall [the journalism building], white male students have said, 'Get out!' or 'Get off the campus!' as I passed by."

"How do you know it was directed at you?" I asked.

"Twice I was the only other person in the hallway! Another time, I was with two Japanese friends."

"How did you react? Did you report this?" I asked.

"I just kept walking," she said. "I don't want to give them the satisfaction of a reaction."

Among the various Asian students studying at the UO's American English Institute, some feel — unreasonably as far as statistics go — that Asians will be the target of the next campus shooting by whites. UO Media Relations head Pauline Austin acknowledged that, "Some students have reported feeling uncomfortable or anxious, but no specific incidents have turned up so far."

She said that all students have been sent email concerning emergency procedure plans, and all foreign students are told to report any acts of bigotry.

Virginia Tech authorities have gone out of their way to mention how there has been no backlash at all against Asian students on their campus. What they may not have mentioned is that the South Korean government pulled home close to 500 of its foreign scholars from that campus soon after the shooting, in fear of just such a backlash.

Joseph A. Lieberman of Eugene is author of The Shooting Game — The Making of School Shooters.