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Statement from the President on Recent Hate Crimes

March 19, 2021

Dear members of the SLU community,

Just over a year ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic was still a “potential,” I wrote to our community to share a message of solidarity for our Asian Billikens as reports of hate speech and bias towards Asian Americans began to surface throughout our country.

This is certainly not the first time in the United States when anti-Asian sentiment has ballooned among the citizenry, rooted in fear, hatred, greed, and insecurity.

To be clear, anti-[insert identity] sentiment is never innocuous. It lays the foundation upon which racism, discrimination, and exclusion are built.

In the mid- to late 1860’s, a period of economic transition and depression and the dislocation of labor, mainly white men, on the west coast gave rise to anti-Asian and anti-immigration sentiment.

The crux of the argument was distinctly racial in that they believed ( “coolieism”(immigrants exploited for low wage labor) was inherent to Asian culture and that Asians would never assimilate into American culture but remain a “yellow peril” to the white standard of living.

The racist attitudes towards Asians in our country became so severe that American companies that competed with those who employed Chinese immigrants began branding their goods with labels stating, “made only with white labor.”

A series of legislative actions followed, from the Anti-coolie Act of 1862 to the Page Act of 1875 – which barred Chinese women from migrating to the U.S. Then in 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act barred, with few exceptions, all Chinese from becoming naturalized citizens.

To this day, the Chinese Exclusion Act remains the first and only U.S. Immigration law ever to specifically name a group for exclusion on the basis of race.

Then, on this very day in 1942, eighty years after the Chinese Exclusion Act, President Roosevelt signed the War Relocation Act (WRA), creating the federal agency that would be responsible for relocating over 2,000 Germans and Italians, more than 120,000 Japanese adults and children to 10 internment camps throughout the U.S.

This week, we learned of the Atlanta area spa attacks, tragically resulting in the deaths of 8 people, 6 of whom were Asian women, in what has become the latest affront to human dignity motivated by racism.

So where do we begin to try and heal a broken world? It starts within. It encompasses learning how current events, such as COVID-19, are used as a guise for harm. These resources from the AMA Journal of EthicsHuman Rights Watch, and Time Magazine can be a starting place.

This why we emphasize the liberal arts centrality to a Jesuit education. Without at least a rudimentary understanding of how various groups have been persecuted and suffered throughout our history, we cannot sufficiently work to prevent it from reoccurring. In other words, we cannot call ourselves Billikens for others unless we know the “other.”

Every person is created in the image and likeness of God, worthy and deserving of respect, dignity and opportunity. Let us continue to encourage one another and to leave open the door of opportunity so that each one of us – so that all of us – may thrive and contribute for the betterment of our Saint Louis University community, our nation and our world.

In solidarity,

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.