March 8, 2021

In response to the alarming rise in incidents of harassment and violence against Chinese Americans and others of Asian ancestry following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a coalition called Stop AAPI Hate came together in March 2020 to aggregate incident reporting, advocate for policy responses, and provide communities with prevention and support resources. Nearly 3,000 Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders reported hate incidents between March 2020 and February 2021.

The data collected by the coalition have been instrumental to a research effort called the AAPI COVID-19 Needs Assessment Project, which has conducted a follow-up study with a sample of the people who reported hate incidents. Led by a team of researchers from across the country, including the UW School of Social Work’s associate dean for faculty excellence, David Takeuchi, the project has generated data showing that a substantial proportion of people who reported hate incidents have experienced post-traumatic symptoms, including depression, low self-esteem and anxiety. And 95 percent said they view the U.S. as a more physically dangerous place for their group.

In a preliminary report presented to Congressional staff, the project’s researchers offer recommendations that include public messaging campaigns, bystander intervention trainings, restorative justice initiatives, community-based safety measures, and multilingual and culturally appropriate legal and mental health resources—as well as funding to support such measures.

Takeuchi, a leading scholar of Asian American mental health, notes that anti-Asian incidents during the pandemic are likely far more common than we’ll ever know. “People often don't know how to respond to these kinds of hate incidents, so they keep it to themselves,” he says. “Our recommendations include more ways to report these kinds of incidents and to provide reasons why people should report them.”

The AAPI COVID-19 Needs Assessment Project is part of a larger initiative administered by the National Urban League that focuses on racial equity and now includes research on how African Americans, Latinx Americans, Indigenous Americans and older Americans of color are faring during the pandemic. The AAPI research cohort is conducting a number of surveys in addition to following up on the Stop AAPI Hate incident reports.

Takeuchi notes that the ability of community organizations to respond to discrimination and attacks against Asian American is constrained by lack of funding, particularly as these organizations struggle to help people meet the most basic needs during the pandemic, including food. 

“What we’ve seen over the past four years is disinvestment in community organizations,” he says. “And COVID shows those inequities.”

Takeuchi adds that the response to anti-Asian attacks must encompass not only support for individuals who have been targeted but also examination of the root causes of this trend. 

“We need to turn it outward to see what makes people feel comfortable doing these kinds of things,” he says, citing how tensions between the U.S. and China can embolden people to act on their prejudices, just as resentments over immigration were all too easily triggered and amplified into hate crimes against Mexican and Latinx people.

The School of Social Work leadership recently issued a statement deploring anti-Asian attacks and affirming the role of social work researchers and practitioners in research and advocacy to hasten critical responses. The School website includes a page with resources on how to intervene in racist harassment, call out racism in other contexts, and report incidents within the campus community.