Jennifer Bouey had a warning for the members of Congress sitting in front of her. It was March 2020. Schools were closing, streets were emptying, and she was testifying about what the nation could expect from COVID-19. It wouldn't just be an epidemic of disease, she predicted. An epidemic of discrimination would soon follow.

It has. Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by nearly 150 percent (PDF) in major American cities in 2020, goaded by political rhetoric that sought to focus the coronavirus conversation on China. One anti-hate group counted nearly 4,000 incidents targeting people of Asian descent in the year following Bouey's warning. A survey in April found that one-third of Asian adults in America fear being threatened or physically attacked.

Bouey is a senior policy researcher at RAND and holds the Tang Chair in China Policy Studies. She teamed up with associate behavioral and social scientist Lu Dong to examine how Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities are responding to the surge in hate, and how research can help.

As part of a series of conversations about ongoing projects in RAND's growing portfolio of high-quality research on racial equity policy, Bouey and Dong discussed with RAND president and CEO Michael D. Rich the rise in anti-Asian hate, the need for better data and information, and the importance of listening to Asian American communities.

Michael D. Rich: What made you want to pursue this research?

Lu Dong: The Atlanta shootings that left eight people dead, six of them Asian women, brought a national spotlight to this issue of anti-Asian hate in March 2021. But for many people in Asian American communities, it wasn't a surprise. We knew anti-Asian attacks had been escalating during the pandemic, but also that there were long-standing problems with hate and discrimination, and that the pandemic was just a trigger.

Jennifer Bouey: I've lived in this country for more than 25 years and have witnessed waves of anti-Asian sentiment. This time, the discrimination against Asians feels very different, just the intensity of it. We all have heard about friends or family members, if not ourselves, being under attack. Anti-Asian racism has deep roots, but many of those systemic issues have not been well studied. It's unfortunate that COVID-19 and the recent tensions between the United States and China have brought this racism to the surface, but we also see this as a triggering event to review some of those systemic issues and see how policy can address them.

Read the full article about anti-Asian racism research by Lu Dong, Jennifer Bouey, Michael D. Rich at RAND Corporation.