Content warning: the following post deals with racism, violence, and death.
On April 5, I logged onto a Zoom event hosted by the Hopkins branch of the Asian Pacific American Medical Students Association (APAMSA). My classmates’ faces on the call were a warm and familiar sight. The mood that day, however, was somber. APAMSA had organized a healing circle in response to the March 16 Atlanta shootings, in which suspect Robert Aaron Long shot and killed eight people in three massage parlors, six of the victims being Asian American women. The next two hours would be some of the most profound and trusting dialogue I have had with my classmates thus far.
Following the recent violent assaults on numerous Asian senior citizens and then the March shootings, APAMSA rose to a spot of leadership within the medical school, connecting Asian students and allies to an array of mental health resources and educational opportunities. The group linked students to a national APAMSA petition, which demanded institutions of higher education take action to combat anti-Asian racism. They connected our class to educational talks on the history of anti-Asian violence in the U.S. They provided links to Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students for art therapy and virtual support groups hosted by organizations in Maryland. But even with all these resources available, APAMSA Advocacy Chairs Emily Xiao, Emma Zeng and Grant Wen still wanted to organize something specifically for JHU’s medical school community.
Emily described to me the responsibility APAMSA felt: “We were at a loss for how to care for our classmates in a situation of this gravity. I think our first impulse was to be pulled toward action and wanting to see some sort of change.” APAMSA started by reaching out to the medical school administration, proposing curricular change that would better cover Asian narratives and new wellness initiatives to support AAPI students. But these were not easy conversations: “While we were doing that work, we knew that folks in our community were hurting — many of us didn’t know how to talk about [the shootings] and hadn’t fully processed what it meant for us. … We had already been feeling vulnerable after months of news about incidents of anti-Asian violence. Out of that came a desire to create a dedicated space for us to gather and tend to some of these emotions together.” The healing circle would be led by APAMSA board members and would be open to all AAPI students and allies in the JHU medical student community.
At the start of the healing circle, Grant assumed the role of moderator and established community guidelines. To foster transparency and an environment of mutual support, he asked that everyone keep their cameras on and participate fully in the discussion. APAMSA had prepared four questions. They ranged from broad (What brought you to this space today?) to specific (How has anti-Asian violence and xenophobia affected you?), or for allies: How has anti-Asian violence and xenophobia affected those around you?). They examined the present (What are your thoughts on the reaction – or lack thereof – to anti-Asian violence from people around you?) and looked to the future (What do you hope for yourself and others around you?).
Each of the attendees was asked to share an answer to each question. By asking for full participation, I noticed that everyone was much more engaged. Though it can be challenging to connect emotionally over Zoom, having the circle’s undivided attention when sharing provided us all with a sense of security. We were all listening to every word and absorbing the heaviness that came with each answer. The space felt free of judgment as different emotions flowed, from guilt while figuring out the “right” way to respond to an act of racism, to frustration at the actions of those around us, to hope for the future. Reaching the end, there was a sense of discovery; attendees realized many emotions were shared among the group, and that this circle of classmates could be a source of support.
Though the circle acknowledged that these emotions wouldn’t go away soon, the act of being vulnerable and honest with each other fostered a sense of community. Prior to this experience, I have felt that examinations of racism and allyship are hard topics to broach with classmates in the little spare time we have. But within an institution that often feels indifferent, seeing students carve out time and overcome pandemic barriers to support each other in a moment of grief seemed to me an act of radical hope.
Ongoing and Upcoming APAMSA Events
Mutual Aid Fundraiser to #StopAsianHate supporting: AAAJ Atlanta, API Equality, NAPAWF, Stop AAPI Hate, Womankind, Asian Health Services
AAPI Voices Project: Accepting one-to-two minute audio and video stories about living as an Asian and Pacific Islander in America.
AAPI Heritage Month Book Club: May 16, 7–8pm over Zoom, reading Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Hong.
- Will You Stop Asian Hate?
- ‘We’ve Always Been Here’: Student Groups Continue to Fight for Equity in Academia
- Johns Hopkins Physicians Stand With You
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