Please Reduce Racism at UConn: The December 3, 1987 Incident

The exhibit is available at Homer Babbidge Library Plaza Level, from April 2 until May 5, 2024.

An exhibit created by Edward Junhao Lim, the Business & Entrepreneurship Librarian of the UConn Library, and a member of the Association for Asian American Faculty and Staff (A3FS).

Target Practice was a comic strip published in the Daily Campus illustrated by Chris Sienko ’88 (SFA). This bigotry – depicting Asian teaching assistants as illiterate and stupid because of their accent or English language ability – reflected the sentiment in many American university campuses in the 1980s-1990s. This was published in the October 7, 1987, issue, p. 13.
The Target Practice comic strip on Asian teaching assistants sparked off a series of letters to the editor published in the October 12 & 14, 1987 issues of the Daily Campus. The Vice President of the UConn Korean Club defending Asian T.A.s, two letters suggesting that Asian T.A.s are poor in communicating in English, and even the comic artist (Sienko) defending and denying its racist intent.

December 3, 1987, was a significant marker for the Asian American movement at the University of Connecticut. Eight Asian American students boarded a bus at Belden Hall to attend an off-campus semi-formal dance at the Italian American Club in Tolland. Belden and Watson Hall sponsored the semi-formal.

The written statement to the UConn Department of Police about the bus incident by Feona Lee ’87 (CLAS, BUS) – one of the eight victims – dated December 12, 1987. She describes how the perpetrators – a group of white, drunken students, some of whom were chewing tobacco – spat on her and her friends and making racist remarks.

During the 45-minute bus ride, they were spat upon and subjected to racial slurs and physical intimidation from a group of UConn football players. Even at the dance hall, one of them continued harassing the group, including indecent exposure. The victims asked one of the Resident Advisors for help and permission to leave but were denied and asked to stay away from the troublemakers. The female victims hid in a closet until the threat of violence had seemed to pass.

This photograph published on the May 16, 1988 issue of the Hartford Advocate featured two of the eight victims of the December 3, 1987 bus incident: Marta Ho (left) and Ronald Cheung ’89 (CLAS, BUS) (center). Accompanying them is Maria Ho ’88 (CLAS) (right), sister of Marta. Both sisters played an important role in the founding of the UConn Asian American Association student group in January 1988, formed as a response to the bus incident.

The inability of both local law enforcement and university officials to address and remedy the situation led to eighteen months of struggle, protest, and examination. No one seemed willing to help at the beginning: the UConn affirmative action office could not interfere because it did not involve faculty and students; the UConn campus police claimed no responsibility since it happened off campus, and three other local police departments (Vernon, Stafford Springs, and Tolland) claimed to have no jurisdiction since the incident started on campus.

Paul Bock was the Professor Emeritus of Hydrology and Water Resources at the University of Connecticut. He pitched a tent on the Student Union lawn at Storrs campus and conducted a hunger strike to call attention to their demands. He obtained seven hundred signatures on a petition to bring about an investigation of the incident. He chose the window between the end of the summer session and the beginning of the fall session in August 1988 to avoid disrupting classes. This photograph by Rick Hartford was published in the Hartford Courant as an update a decade after the bus incident on May 17, 1998.

The perseverance of the victims eventually led to the identification and prosecution of only two from a group of attackers. One was suspended for one year. The other was barred from living on campus but continued to play for the UConn football team until his graduation.

This exhibit seeks to raise awareness about the incident on December 3, 1987, against Asian Americans at the UConn. This incident was a catalyst for change at UConn, leading to the establishment of the Asian American Cultural Center (AsACC), which provides resources to enhance the University’s diversity commitment through its recruitment and retention efforts, teaching, service, and outreach to the Asian American community on campus.

Through personal narratives and historical documents, the exhibition will explore this event’s origins and immediate consequences on the Asian, Asian American and broader campus communities. The day after the incident, Homer Babbidge Library was where Marta Ho told her sister Maria Ho what had happened. Maria insisted on reporting the incident to the police.

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