Message from the Dean

Another plague that must be eradicated: anti-Asian bigotry

Even as the coronavirus pandemic dominated our lives during the past year, another epidemic has erupted: anti-Asian hate crimes. Earlier this year, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino released an analysis showing that anti-Asian hate crimes increased 149 percent in 16 of America’s largest cities during 2020.

This happened even as hate crimes overall decreased by 7 percent. And while we often view Seattle as a progressive major city, total hate crimes here increased by 11 percent and anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 33 percent from 2019 to 2020. These incidents of bigotry against people of Asian and Pacific Islander ancestry included verbal harassment (66%), shunning or avoidance (20%), physical assault (8%), and coughing or spitting on the person (6%). All of these data are likely shy of the actual prevalence of anti-Asian hate crimes because they are too often not reported for a variety of reasons, some cultural.

What is going on? Why is there a sudden surge in prejudice and racist acts against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders? The pandemic has been postulated as a cause, and the same study surveyed 286 people about their beliefs regarding responsibility for the virus. The top three responses cited something related to China. While the political rhetoric of the past year certainly contributed to some people concluding that the virus is a weapon developed in China, there is more that accounts for this sentiment than just stupid and bigoted politicians who resonate with ill-informed people. It is possible that “COVID fatigue” has large groups of the population increasingly frustrated by the limitations that have been imposed and looking to find someone to blame. The fact that many Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders can be identified by some physical characteristics and that the first reports of COVID emerged from Wuhan, China, makes them an easy target for the simple-minded. I realize that these are provocative statements, and that is my intent. I think that most of us have bigotry fatigue in addition to COVID fatigue.

What can we do? Dentistry, as a profession, adheres to a code of ethics. We strongly endorse ethical conduct, and that includes the fundamental principle of respect for persons. When we observe bigotry that is based upon race, ethnicity, or any other personal or social factors, we are obligated to speak out against it. We occupy a position of trust and respect in society and by voicing our censure of bigotry, we make clear our moral stand and may cause at least a few with bigoted attitudes to think more critically.

The University of Washington School of Dentistry also has an obligation to speak up and express our extreme disdain for this prejudice and acts of harm and violence. To be silent is to be complicit, and we will not allow that. Together with our colleagues at the other UW Health Sciences schools – Medicine, Nursing, Public Health, Social Work, and Pharmacy – we have made a clear commitment to be actively anti-racist and to dismantle institutional racism in our own sphere. We will continue to speak out against the violence visited upon our Black community and the bigotry with which they contend every day. I have also urged everyone at our School of Dentistry to use the UW’s bias reporting tool whenever deemed necessary, and to read UW President Ana Mari Cauce’s message of support for our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander colleagues, friends, and neighbors.

Our communities of color have enriched – and will continue to enrich – our School of Dentistry immeasurably. At a time when our Asian community is in crisis, we need only look to our own students, faculty, and staff to see how much we gain from their talents, skills, and insights.

It is time for all the rest of us to stand up for them. We must forcefully and unequivocally condemn this trend in anti-Asian bigotry. We stand in solidarity with our Asian colleagues and our Asian community.


Professor and Dean