INDIANAPOLIS — Melanie Castillo-Cullather started working as the director of the Asian Culture Center at Indiana University Bloomington in 1999. At the time, the center was limited to providing student services. But that quickly changed after an incident.
Six months after Castillo-Cullather started her job at IU, a 26-year-old student named Won-Joon Yoon was murdered. On July 4, 1999, Yoon was fatally shot outside the Korean United Methodist Church on East 3rd Street. Yoon’s shooter was a racially motivated man who was targeting racial and ethnic minorities at random. The young Asian-American student was one of several victims in a spree killing.
Castillo-Cullather said the attack in Atlanta brought her back to what happened to Yoon more than 20 years ago.
“This just brought back memories of a time in Indiana and our campus at Indiana University in 1999 when a student was singled out because he was Asian and he was murdered by a white supremacist," Castillo-Cullather explained. “Not a lot of people in Indiana and not a lot of new students coming into IU learn about that or is aware about that tragedy.”
After Yoon was murdered, Castillo-Cullather and others at the university felt that the Asian Culture Center needed to do more than offer student services.
“After Won-Joon Yoon was killed, we knew from the start that we can’t confine our role to on campus and that we need to work beyond and do more work outside the university and that we need to do collaborations with civic groups,” Castillo-Cullather said.
The Asian Culture Center does more outreach now. Most recently offering resources to students and the community on COVID-19. There is a specific section called Fighting Racism in COVID-19 Times that is aimed at educating students on where to report bias incidents as well as educating others on ways to respond against racism.
“With the spike or with escalation of the anti-Asian racism and the attacks on Asians there is a realization that there’s a lot of work to be done,” Castillo-Cullather said.
There are several groups across Indiana working to make changes. One of them is the Indiana Chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. The group advocates for and works to amplify the voices of AAPI (Asian-American Pacific Islander) women in Indiana.
NAPAWF are petitioning Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to address anti-Asian harassment and violence. The petition has gained the support of nearly 2,000 people.
“We had actually come out with this petition about a week before the incidents in Atlanta,” explained co-chair of the Indiana Chapter of NAPAWF, Shruti Rana.
“We knew this was not only a serious issue but an escalating issue but also one that a lot of people weren’t aware of and even if they knew about it they weren’t sure what they could do and what actions they could take. We came up with this petition as a way to really amplify and bring awareness to what was happening but also at the same time to suggest concrete community based actions that people could take,” Rana said.
Holcomb addressed the topic during his COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday and also provided this statement to WRTV:
“Anyone that seeks to terrorize or cause fear needs to be held accountable for that. Racism is counter to Hoosier values. It’s not what we stand for. I championed and signed a historic bias crimes law in 2019 to protect those who are the target of these crimes and to take a strong stand against targeted violence. There is no higher priority than the safety and security of Hoosiers.”
Members of NAPAWF hope to get an additional response from Holcomb and other state leaders on the issue.
“We’re urging the leadership to condemn racism against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and to really be proactive in coming up with measures to protect the Asian-Americans in Indiana,” Castillo-Cullather said, who is also co-chair of NAPAWF. “We want to make sure that Indiana is not one of those places that has this kind of tragedy. We already had one in 1999 let’s not have it again.”