Newhouse advertising senior starts a roundtable discussion for international students

After attending a #StopAsianHate protest during her semester at Newhouse NYC, Aorui Pi ’21 was inspired to give other students a space in which to speak.

Aorui Pi ’21

Although anti-Asian hate crimes have gained attention in the media recently, Aorui Pi ’21 says they are nothing new. She remembers a racially targeted incident at Columbia University in 2017, Pi’s freshman year at Syracuse, in which name tags—predominantly those with East Asian names—were torn off dorm room doors. When Pi, a recent graduate of Newhouse’s advertising program, participated in Newhouse NYC during her last semester as an undergraduate, she was worried.

“I was so afraid to go out because even though I covered my face with a mask and a hat, I still look[ed] so Asian,” she says.

During the Black Lives Matter protests in Syracuse in the spring of 2020, Pi wanted to protest, but her parents discouraged her.

“I grew up in China, and I was always told to stay quiet. [Girls, especially, couldn’t] make a scene or draw attention to themselves,” Pi says. But after the slaying of eight Asian women at a spa in Atlanta last March, which sparked a new wave of protests, Pi decided she couldn’t just watch anymore.

“I decided to get involved because, as an Asian student, I want[ed] to do something for the community.”

Initially, Pi was fearful of being attacked during the protest in New York, which she went to alone, but says she found it an emotional, educational and peaceful experience.

“I saw many families that brought children with their handmade protest signs,” she says. “I shadowed an Asian family while waiting for people to gather up. The mother was educating her children about why they should be there to support people. It was eye-opening.”

A young Asian girl wearing a mask holds a sign that reads "Stop Asian Hate" during the New York City protests.
A young girl protests at Union Square Park, New York City. (Aorui Pi)

Five hundred participants were expected at the protest, but the number ended up being closer to 2,000, Pi says.

“It [was] overwhelmingly shocking to see [so] many families [teaching] children about the problem, because my parents wouldn’t talk about it.”

Pi says this contrast helped her realize that silence keeps societal problems in place by making them seem less important. Inspired by the healing she felt after attending the protests, Pi launched WeRound, a monthly roundtable discussion hosted by WeMedia Lab, a media organization run by international students at Syracuse University. WeRound allowed members to talk about their experiences, and vent.

“Sometimes it feels like a group therapy. Sometimes it brings relief and understanding among peers,” Pi says.

Now that she has graduated, Pi hopes that current members will continue the roundtable. As for her own plans, Pi says she’d like to start a podcast to teach people about the origin and history of common Asian practices in hopes of creating an appreciation of her culture.

“Your culture [and] community [are] marvelous, and you should be proud of it,” says Pi. “When you get involved in the community, you will be surrounded by like-minded people.”

Adrianne Morales ’21 is an alumna of the broadcast and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School.