PIVOT Stands With Bee Nguyen

June 12, 2019

We stand in support of Bee Nguyen, State Representative for Georgia House District 89, and her criticism of inflammatory statements made by an associate professor of history at Georgia Gwinnett College about undocumented immigrants. In a Facebook post, Fang Zhou called undocumented immigrants “ghetto thugs and criminals” and “illiterate uneducated intellectually inferior.” He also states that “deportation of illegals is so beautiful and lovely to see. It is sweet justice for me.” Mr. Zhou also reported that he consistently educates his students about “the financial burden of illegal immigrants” and “the high crime rate of illegal immigrants.”     

We are disturbed by these comments and even more troubled by Mr. Zhou’s position as an associate professor at a public university located in Gwinnett County, Georgia, which is one of the most diverse counties in the Southeast and is, by a 2017 estimate, home to more than 220,000 immigrants. As an associate professor, Mr. Zhou has a heightened level of responsibility to his institution and to his students. According to the Georgia Gwinnett College’s Academic Freedom Statement:  “Faculty have a concomitant responsibility to teach students to evaluate knowledge claims using standards of evidence accepted in their respective disciplines, and to promote respect for competing views offered by others. Students have the right to a safe classroom environment in which they can explore controversial ideas in an atmosphere characterized by openness, tolerance and civility, and where they will be graded only on the intellectual merits of their work.”

Certainly, the First Amendment protects Mr. Zhou’s right to express his stance on the issue of immigration. But he must still foster a hostile-free learning environment for students, and in this case, he chose words that are venomous and used them to degrade, humiliate, and dehumanize. His comments are definitively not characterized by “openness, tolerance, and civility.” Nor do they create a safe atmosphere for dialogue among his students or the public. His claims that undocumented immigrants are a financial burden and engage in high levels of criminal activity also perpetuate false and dangerous narratives about the undocumented community.    

Mr. Zhou is an associate professor of history, so we trust that he is familiar with the anti-Asian racism and Sinophobia history in the United States, where Asian people have endured inflammatory, derogatory comments and violent treatment, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. As U.S. Representative Bill Foster said, “History has not looked kindly on us when we've prevented people fleeing violence from seeking refuge in this country.”

We call on Georgia Gwinnett College to have a conversation with Mr. Zhou to ensure that his conduct is reflective of the policies put forth by the university, which include fostering a safe environment for students that facilitates openness, tolerance, and civility.

As an organization of refugees, immigrants, and children of refugees and immigrants, we stand with Representative Bee Nguyen in her questioning of Georgia Gwinnett College’s values and call for a response from the university about statements made by Mr. Zhou.