Members of the community gathered in front of South City Campus on Friday to remember the eight people killed in a series of shootings at Atlanta-area spas on March 17.
The Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) department organized the Peace & Justice Vigil, which honored Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng. The event also served as a reminder of the diverse student body at Salt Lake Community College and how a college can serve as a platform to amplify these voices.
“Salt Lake Community College … just youth in general, has always led the fight in the change to a better way of living,” sociology major Ken-tay Lee said prior to the start of the vigil. “When we see racism, whether it’s overt or it’s covert, we want to say it, right? We want to be deliberate in extinguishing this.”
“We’re here because of the suffering. We’re here because people lost their family members … and we all understand suffering, and that’s why we are here in solidarity. I am here because I want to see the day when these don’t exist,” Lee continued.
Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Lea Lani Kinikini opened the vigil by reading “Blood in the Kava Bowl” by Tongan poet Epeli Hau’ofa. Afterward, the student members of JEDI led the crowd in a call and response saying each victim’s name.
Associate Vice President for Student Success, Dr. Kathryn Kay Coquemont, addressed the crowd speaking to the grief of the American Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
“In addition to your grief, in addition to your anger, in it, you also have a loneliness. And it’s the worst feeling of invisibility,” Coquemont said. “And it’s bad not just because you feel invisible and your community feels invisible, but it’s bad because you’re also conspicuous in the worst ways.”
The space was opened to anyone who wanted to share their thoughts. Bianca Teh, a graphic design major and member of the Asian Student Association, spoke of how the rise in xenophobia impacted her family who are immigrants from the Philippines.
“She [her mother] was worried that we [Teh and her siblings] would get hurt,” Teh said. “She told us to wear sunglasses and caps and just cover our faces to make sure that no one knows what kind of race you are because she doesn’t want her babies hurt.”
According to California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, hate crimes against people of Asian descent rose sharply in 2020. A spike of 149% was reported in examining 16 of the largest cities in the country.
Coquemont said she appreciated being asked to be part of the conversation in organizing the vigil at an SLCC campus by Kinikini and Dr. Anthony Nocella.
“I think there’s such power in doing it here because this is where our community is more so than any place else. We know that students of color are coming here and finding a home here,” Coquemont said.
Coquemont acknowledged students are facing negative experiences at the college as well.
“We’re here to do better by them and hear their stories … part of being a community college is saying that you’re not just a student, but we are here for all of who you are. We have your back,” Coquemont said.
Students experiencing incidents of bias or hate are encouraged to report the incident.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Bianca Teh’s major and club affiliation. We apologize for the error.