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Harvard Ph.D. Students Map Incidents of Anti-Asian Aggression

A pair of Harvard Ph.D. students created an online map tracking anti-Asian incidents during the coronavirus outbreak.
A pair of Harvard Ph.D. students created an online map tracking anti-Asian incidents during the coronavirus outbreak. By Aiyana G. White
By Simon J. Levien and Austin W. Li, Crimson Staff Writers

Two Harvard Ph.D. students, Ja Young Choi and Boram Lee, created a crowdsourced map to track instances of anti-Asian aggression amid the coronavirus pandemic last week.

The recent cases follow a trend of increased incidents of hate crimes against Asian Americans across the country.

The webpage “Stop AAPI Hate” — a collaboration between the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and the Department of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University — reported receiving over 1,100 reports of verbal harassment, shunning, and physical assault against Asian Americans in the two weeks since the site’s launch on March 19.

The “COVID-19 Racial Aggression” map, powered by Google My Maps, enables users to input descriptions and locations of instances of anti-Asian discrimination across the country. As of Wednesday, the map had at least 100 entries and over 27,000 views.

The entries are split into three categories: verbal aggression, physical aggression, and vandalism. Around Harvard’s campus, there were verbal aggression incidents logged around Harvard Square, the Cambridge Common, the Science Center Plaza, and Massachusetts Avenue.

The form to add incidents onto the map included a link to resources compiled by the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations for students experiencing COVID-19-related harassment.

Lee, a Ph.D. candidate in government, said she was inspired to create this map after experiencing racial verbal aggression for the first time in her six years in Cambridge.

“In one case, just a random guy swore at me in front of the Science Center plaza. And the other case was I was going to get some groceries. Somebody just followed me and — it was not threatening physically at all — but she wanted to tell me ‘Chinese is no good’ or ‘China no good,’” Lee, who is of Korean descent, said. “It was striking that these things happened to me within a matter of two weeks.”

Choi, a Medical Sciences Ph.D. student and co-creator of the interactive map, said the map led to some surprising findings.

“We just noticed it was happening everywhere. It’s not confined to one area within the Boston area. It was happening in Watertown, Cambridge, Somerville,” she said. “And one of the questions we ask is whether people were wearing masks. It’s not like there’s a clear pattern — like if you’re wearing a mask you’re more likely to get racial aggression — that’s not the case.”

Originally, the pair circulated a Boston-specific map through word of mouth and Asian affinity groups at Greater Boston area universities, but then decided to expand the map to include New York City. The map now covers incidents across the United States and Canada.

Lee intends for the map to raise awareness rather than to serve as a comprehensive hate crime tracker.

“The main objective for us is to provide a platform where people can share information about incidents that they think may not measure up to a report-worthy hate crime,” Lee said, adding that even incidents of verbal aggression could prelude more grave hate crimes.

“Raising awareness itself is, I think, already an act of making a statement that this is not okay. And that it is valid for people to feel concerned and scared in these weird times,” Choi said.

—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at simon.levien@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.

—Staff writer Austin W. Li can be reached at austin.li@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @austinwli.

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