Solution-focused panel to discuss violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Left to right: Zara Arboleda (moderator), BoNhia Lee, Davorn Sisavath, Brynn Saito, Varaxy Yi

Image, left to right: Zara Arboleda (moderator), BoNhia Lee, Davorn Sisavath, Brynn Saito, Varaxy Yi

In March 2020, as the country went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FBI warned of an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans. Since then, Stop AAPI Hate, a group that tracks incidents of harassment and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, reported 3,785 incidents through February 2021. 

The group said the actual number could be much higher. On March 16, a man in Georgia reportedly gunned down eight people, including six Asian women. The horrific incident thrust the issue of bigotry, hate and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders into the spotlight.

Communications director and former journalist Zara Arboleda will moderated the panel discussion, “Violence Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: A Conversation About Solutions” at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 4 on Zoom.

Arboleda is the director of communications and public relations at Valley Children’s Healthcare. The two-time Emmy Award winner spent two decades in television news, most recently with CBS47 in Fresno. Arboleda, the daughter of Filipino immigrants, is a first-generation Asian American born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and an even more proud mother of two. 

Panelists include:

BoNhia Lee is a communications specialist at Fresno State who writes about student and faculty success, research and other University accomplishments. She was previously a journalist for 15 years, most recently with The Fresno Bee. Lee contributed to The Bee’s “Living in Misery,” a special report on substandard housing that launched a citywide debate in Fresno and earned a George F. Gruner Award for public service. In 2020, she was a contributor to “Staring Down the Tiger: Stories of Hmong American Women,” an anthology about Hmong women, their identity and breaking through cultural barriers. Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Lee graduated from Syracuse University. She is married with three children. 

Brynn Saito (she/her/hers) is a poet, organizer and assistant professor of creative writing and English at Fresno State. She is the author of two books of poetry, “Power Made Us Swoon” (2016) and “The Palace of Contemplating Departure” (2013), winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award from Red Hen Press and a finalist for the Northern California Book Award. Saito is a two-time recipient of the California State Library’s Civil Liberties Public Education grant for her work with the Yonsei Memory Project. Co-founded with farmer and artist Nikiko Masumoto, the project uses art and storytelling to connect the World War II-era incarceration of the Japanese American community with current struggles for justice. In 2019, Saito was featured in Vogue magazine for her work and has received support from Densho, Hedgebrook and Santa Fe Art Institute’s Truth and Reconciliation program. Her poetry has appeared in the New York Times, the American Poetry Review, and was recently featured in the opening ceremony for The People’s Inauguration, a 10-day event inspiring collective action led by activist Valarie Kaur. 

Davorn Sisavath is an assistant professor of ethnic studies in the Department of Anthropology and Asian American Studies Program at Fresno State. Her research focuses on militarism and empire and science, technology and warfare. She is currently at work on a book manuscript that examines metallic violence in postwar spaces, including Laos, Iraq and the U.S. Her writing has appeared in Radical History Review, Journal of Transnational American Studies, Anthropological Quarterly and is forthcoming in Critical Ethnic Studies Journal. She serves on the board of directors of Stone Soup Fresno and is vice president of Central California Asian Pacific Women.

Varaxy Yi is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Fresno State. She also serves as coordinator for the Higher Education Administration and Leadership graduate program and is a core faculty member in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership. As a first-generation Khmer American graduate and faculty, Yi is committed to advancing knowledge to serve racially minoritized communities. She conducts research to advance equity, access and opportunity for historically underserved communities, such as Southeast Asian American and refugee populations. Her dissertation was a phenomenological exploration of the racialized experiences of Southeast Asian American community college students. Her work focuses on building capacity within higher education institutions to advance issues of racial justice and equity to serve diverse students.  

The event is presented by the College of Arts and Humanities, Institute for Media and the Public Trust, Asian American Studies Program, Asian Faculty and Staff Association, Fresno State Ethics Center and the Department of Media, Communications and Journalism.

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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