Peipei Liu, recipient of Unsung Hero, advocates for cultural understanding at the League

Get the latest news from Syracuse delivered straight to your inbox.
Subscribe to our newsletter here.

Returning to Syracuse from his hometown of Wuhan, China in January 2020, Peipei Liu was not met with much kindness from the surrounding community.

Liu, a junior television, radio and film student at the Newhouse School of Public Communications and one of Syracuse University’s 2022 Unsung Hero Award winners, experienced mild flu-like symptoms 11 days after returning to Syracuse that winter. After hearing about the outbreak of a newly identified coronavirus in her hometown, she began to worry that she had the virus herself.

Liu visited The Arch’s Barnes Center, complied with multiple tests, and spent three days in quarantine at Upstate University Hospital and then SU ​​South Campus, but doctors later confirmed that she was not infected with the virus. Still, Liu chose to be safe and wear a mask both on and off campus, though the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the university have yet to require people to wear it. do.

One day, while Liu was eating at Ernie Davis Hall, someone yelled “coronavirus” at him and pretended to cough. Another night, while she was walking near Marshall Street, another person passed by, opened an umbrella towards her, and climbed down from the sidewalk to avoid her.

Liu was saddened. She wasn’t sure if these actions were motivated by prejudice.

“If we don’t speak out loud, this stuff will definitely happen again and again,” Liu said in Mandarin. “But if we speak out, even if it’s just a small group of people, we’re still making a positive change.”

In February 2020, after all the unpleasant experiences and discrimination she faced after the COVID-19 outbreak, Liu decided to conduct a street experiment holding a sign that read “#FightVirusNotUs.” A HUG in exchange for a word of encouragement” at various locations on campus.

As Liu and his friends worried about his physical safety, the experiment received huge turnout, Liu said. Many members of the SU community embraced her and gave her the courage to carry on. Yajie “Lannie” Lan, a friend of Liu’s and an SU architecture student, wrote a Mandarin song dedicated to the city of Wuhan and filmed the street experience in the song’s video.

The video was shown in newspapers and on social media in China. Although some comments criticized it as a photo op, the experience itself meant much more than that to many people, as it gave confidence to many Chinese international students at the time, Lan said.

“I once told Peipei that I wanted to become a person who can have more imagination about other people’s happiness and suffering,” Lan said in Mandarin, referencing a quote from a Chinese author. “I believe that’s what Peipei always thought too.”

The pandemic was not the only source behind anti-Asian discrimination, nor the first time she had personally faced racism, Liu said. During her first semester at SU, she witnessed everything from racist graffiti found in Day Hall to the #NotAgainSU sit-in at Barnes Center as an international student.

After the university attempted to control reports of graffiti found in Day Hall, black SU students organized the #NotAgainSU movement and an eight-day sit-in at Barnes Center. Liu said while many black students have actively spoken out for themselves and their community against racism, few international and Asian students have chosen to get involved, in part because of their cultural differences.

Liu, a resident of Day Hall at the time, organized a campaign with her friends and other international students who lived in the building. They wrote anti-racism messages and positive phrases such as “love” or “smile” in different languages ​​on post-its and posted them throughout the building. Soon people even from outside the room joined their campaign.

Courtesy of Ava Hu; Photo Illustration by Maya Goosmann | Director of Digital Design

“The most important lesson I learned in Syracuse is never to be ashamed of your identity,” Liu said. “I wanted to create this space where everyone can fight racism in their own way.”

Liu also wants to bring her identity as an international student to the promotion of cross-cultural understanding between the Chinese international and the wider communities of the League.

After his hometown experienced lockdown and a severe shortage of medical supplies, Liu participated in “A Hand for Wuhan,” a fundraising campaign organized by Chinese international students at SU that raised more than $50,000. to support hospitals in Wuhan and later hospitals in New York after the pandemic hit the United States

Ruohan Xu and Ze Zeng, two One Hand for Wuhan organizers and friends of Liu, both said Liu helped the campaign by contacting US medical supply manufacturers as well as local hospitals in Wuhan.

“Peipei is someone who truly cares about others,” Xu said in Mandarin. “Anyone who really knows her would treat her like a true friend, and she really deserves it.”

As editor-in-chief of WeMedia Lab, a Mandarin-based media platform for the SU’s Chinese international community, Liu actively connected various campus resources she was involved with with a wider Chinese international audience. , said Ava Hu, the organization’s editor-in-chief.

WeMedia Lab’s founding dates back to the 2016 murder of Xiaopeng “Pippen” Yuan, a Chinese international student at SU, said Zeng, who also serves as WeMedia Lab’s director. The tragedy shaped the organization’s mission to create a more effective connection between Chinese international students and the university. Liu’s talent and passion for helping others make her the perfect person to fulfill this mission, he said.

“The way she tells stories can really connect with Chinese international students who are away from home,” Zeng said. “I find it always very pleasant to work with her.”

Liu said the Unsung Hero award validated his beliefs and efforts to “make the world a better place.” Although she wondered if her work was meaningful and essential enough to the community before receiving the award, this honor motivated her to keep pushing these efforts forward.

“Dr. King stood up for his rights and the rights of the community he belonged to, with a vision to make this world a better place,” Liu said. is what I want to do.”


Contact Francois: [email protected] | @francis_towne

James C. Tibbs