Stop Firing Asian Student Workers, UMich!

Stop Firing Asian Student Workers, UMich!

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Joshua Kam started this petition to University of Michigan and

Joshua Chun Wah Kam, a recent Malaysian alumnus of the University of Michigan, was suspended and ultimately removed early from his position for tweeting support for Asian American victims of the Atlanta Shootings of March 16--all as part of his job. We demand accountability and a restoration of the work he was promised.

On the night a white supremacist murdered 6 Asian and Asian Americans on March 16, 2021 in Atlanta, Kam posted a series of tweets of condolences, academic articles, and general support for the Asian American community on the CSEAS twitter account. His white faculty director, Dr. Laura Rozek, the PR team of Rackham LSA school, and the International Institute proceeded to:

  •  suggest Asian-on-Asian violence in Asia as a reason to not post “inflammatory” condolences about white supremacy at home, not 24 hours after the murders;
  • lock Joshua out of his digital workplaces without warning, within 48 hours;
  • harass and question his timesheets over the next two months, including intimidating weekly check-ins with silent but present upper admin;
  • inform him during an April “touch base” that his position had been “reopened,” a position he had been verbally promised through the end of July. This decision was announced while Joshua was still in the process of escalating his concerns about the decision-making process of a mostly-white LSA PR leadership, through legitimate channels.
  • In a final Zoom meeting, Dr. Rozek interrupted other staff of color repeatedly to call these condolence tweets “inflammatory” and lacking in “good judgement.” Joshua questioned why she would interrupt POC to center her emotions when his people were getting slaughtered. Her reply: “I’m not afraid to say what is obvious: if you feel like these are ‘your’ people, [Korean-American staff member] is...I’m not even gonna bring [them] into this...I direct the center,” she concluded instead. 

Dr. Rozek’s profound lack of empathy, refusal to center dissident Asian voices, and audacity to lecture an Asian Asianist on geopolitics they have studied and lived through, reflects poorly on CSEAS. Instead of reaching out to a plurality of Asian students and scholars on campus, Dr. Rozek and the Center have doubled down on their oversights, without acknowledging the added trauma these actions have thrown on an Asian student worker in a time of profound fear, grief, and financial uncertainty.

More concerningly, a white director is weaponizing the identities of Asian-American staff while denying any transparency about how white-majority leadership decides what social media is “inflammatory.” Dr. Rozek implies that only Korean-Americans should have a right to grieve over white supremacist acts affecting all Asians in America. Furthermore, she seems to imply that only Korean individuals were shot in that atrocity, a simply inaccurate idea that reflects her poor grasp of the basic details of a massacre that shook the communities she claims to support. Her willingness to condemn any discussion of white supremacy and colonialism as “not good judgement” should concern our community.. 

Will government employees who earn $134,000 annually from studying Asia explicitly condemn white supremacy or not? This willful ignorance is unacceptable from an America director of a Southeast Asian studies center. This dynamic is exacerbated by a significant power disparity between a white director and a Asian student temporary worker in a moment of communal grief, supporting his single Malaysian mother in a pandemic. 

We ask for an immediate restoration of the position Joshua Kam was promised verbally, or else an adequate recompensation. An apology for the racist and retaliatory actions of the Center is long overdue as well. There is no explanation for reopening Joshua’s position with a nearly identical workload, short of institutional racism. We seek justice over retribution. We do not seek to “cancel” anyone. We do, however, ask for accountability, and a display of the “concrete support” the International Institute offered Asian students in the wake of the traumatic Atlanta shootings. We ask that U-M LSA, the International Institute, the Center for Southeast Asian studies, and its faculty director find a peaceful and just resolution with Kam as he supports his family over the summer. Asian students in America should not have to live in fear of retaliation for performing their jobs and extending compassion to their community at U-M amidst a wave of Anti-Asian violence. #StopAsianHate.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned 

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