Harvard grad students launch map of racist incidents toward Asians amid coronavirus outbreak

CAMBRIDGE — Two Harvard University graduate students created a Google map to record incidents of racism toward Asians amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The map, which was launched on social media last week, consists of experiences submitted by users. It centers mostly in the Boston area but has grown to include other areas across the country in the days and weeks since the coronavirus outbreak, which originated in China, spread to the United States.

A click of each pin on the map shows the location and details of each incident.

"I was waiting to cross the street when a passerby shouted, 'Go back to China,'" one person wrote.

"An individual saw me from a distance and walked towards me quickly and spat aggressively on the ground," another recorded.

Boram Lee told Boston 25 News Monday the idea for the map began after two incidents of racially charged aggression she experienced in the past two weeks.

"Someone swore at me at Harvard Square, and someone followed me to make a point to say that China is not good, at Union Square," Lee said. "It just struck me a lot, because I have been living here for the past six years and it has never happened before... I thought these incidents were not grave enough to report to the police, but then I just didn't want to wait for something more grave to happen that's equivalent to a hate crime."

Lee spoke with friend and fellow Harvard PhD candidate Ja Young Choi, and the two began brainstorming.

"It just made me really wary of just going outside grocery shopping," Choi said of Lee's and other friends' experiences. "This situation is already a stressful situation for everybody. It's a global health crisis. And on top of this, there's another layer of anxiety. And I just wanted to address this in some kind of an active way."

Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn offered a resolution last month pledging his "support and empathy" for the local Asian community during the coronavirus pandemic.

"With the spread of COVID-19, there are unfortunately many reports of racism and discrimination against Chinese and Asian communities in the United States and around the world," Flynn's 'Resolution Supporting Our Chinese and Asian Communities During the COVID-19 Epidemic' reads. "And there are reports of harassment against those who are of Asian descent, with incidents where people are subjected to verbal insults, or that they are being actively avoided in the public."

The Google map, still in its infancy, includes more than 20 incidents in the Boston area and more outside Massachusetts.

The pair is encouraging others to submit the incidents they have experienced or witnessed and updating the map to reflect those submissions at least daily.

They plan to share the data with police and their university, and they are considering working on launching a hotline. But, for now, the map is the start of a support system.

“I this is not a trivial matter. Just because it’s not violence or physical doesn’t mean that it doesn’t threaten your safety as a member of this community,” Choi said. “I want people to feel empowered enough to talk about this kind of stuff. And we deserve not to be treated that way.”

To view the map or submit an experience, click here.