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Asian American event reflects on racial incident, decade of progress

About 100 members of the University community gathered together at the Asian American Cultural Center Wednesday to commemorate a racial incident 10 years ago and to celebrate the progress the University has made since then.

"I forgive the people who insulted us and have no anger toward them. I have other more pleasant memories of UConn that I carry with me," said Ronald Cheung '89, one of eight Asian American students from UConn who were shouted at and spat upon during a 45-minute bus ride to an off-campus semiformal dance on December 3, 1987.

The important thing is to learn from this and go forward, he added.

Cheung, who received a degree in accounting from UConn and later earned a J.D. from Quinnipiac College in Hamden, is now a lawyer with Dansker and Aspromonte Associates in New York.

Chancellor Mark Emmert said the event was "a marvelous celebration of the 10 years of progress since the day and the achievement through the years.

"A University has a very special place in society - it should also be ahead of society and demonstrate how we can build a community around the values of the educational academy in a diverse environment," Emmert said.

The event triggered a series of discussions, debates and protests that culminated in the creation of several entities on campus that focus on Asian American issues.

In the decade since the incident, the University has established the Asian American Studies Institute, Asian American Cultural Center, Asian American Students Association, Asian Faculty and Staff Association, and the Asian American Library Collection.

At the time, two of the attackers were identified as football players. The students were charged with Student Conduct Code violations: one was suspended for one school year, and the other was barred from living in a campus dorm and placed on disciplinary probation.

"We should honor the eight UConn Asian-American students and take a pledge that no convicted racist/sexist harasser shall play big-time UConn football," said Paul Bock, a professor emeritus of hydrology and water resources who led the Asian American movement at the University after the 1987 incident.

President Philip E. Austin said he was distressed to learn about the incident.

"A University is a community of communities and education in itself is enhanced by learning about diversity," he said. "I embrace Professor Bock's pledge entirely, enthusiastically and without reservation. It is important that we learn to be more sensitive of individuals and be aware that inappropriate behavior can not be engaged in without a price."

Emmert, said he too, embraced Bock's pledge, but would like to expand it to include all students not just football players.

Other speakers included Frank Parady '90, a student at UConn at the time of the incident, and David Morse, a journalist who wrote a story about the incident in Northeast magazine in 1989.

The event also featured a procession and candlelighting ceremony in which students lit 10 candles representing the 10 years that have passed since this experience; student poetry readings and songs; and a campus documentary produced by the Asian American Students Association on student opinions about Asian American issues and diversity at UConn.

Usha R. Palaniswamy