More than one-quarter of students between the ages of 12 and 18 reported being bullied at school during the 2010-11 school year — nearly 7 million students. Some Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students face bullying and harassment based on their immigration status, such as Micronesian students whose families have recently immigrated to the continent and Hawaii. Others are bullied for the way they look, such as turbaned Sikh youth, or for their English language skills.
Students who are bullied don’t feel safe, and students who don’t feel safe can’t learn. Students involved in bullying are more likely to have challenges in school, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to have physical and mental health issues. Being bullied endangers students’ academic achievement and ultimately their college and career readiness. And in some areas, bullying of AAPI students is rampant. For example, one 2014 study found that over two-thirds of turbaned Sikh youth in Fresno, California reported experiencing bullying and harassment. And another recent study found that half of the 163 Asian American New York City public school students reported experiencing some kind of bias-based harassment in a 2012 survey, compared with only 27 percent in 2009.
When children are singled out because of a shared characteristic — such as race, sexual orientation, or religion — or a perceived shared characteristic, the issue not only affects that individual but the entire community. Policymakers believe that AAPI students who are bullied face unique challenges, including religious, cultural, and language barriers. In addition, there has been a spike of racial hostility following the September 11 attacks against children perceived to be Muslim. The classroom should be the safest place for youth, but for some AAPI students, it can be a very dangerous environment.
Unfortunately, this issue of AAPI harassment is nothing new. In 1982, Vincent Chin became a household name in AAPI homes when he was attacked and killed because he was mistakenly perceived to be Japanese. To facilitate a conversation on this issue, in 2011, under the leadership of Amardeep Singh, former member of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) hosted a Bullying Prevention Summit in New York City.
However, more work needs to be done. Earlier this month, on the fifth anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the White House announced several efforts to address hate crimes, including a new Interagency Initiative on Hate Crimes. As a part of these efforts, WHIAAPI, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is launching the AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force to proactively address bullying in the AAPI community. In the wake of increasing concerns about the high rates of bullying among Sikh youth and incidents such as the attacks on as many as 30 Asian American students at South Philadelphia High School in December 2009, the AAPI Task Force will help ensure that the AAPI community is aware of federal resources and remedies available to them.
The AAPI Task Force brings together federal experts in civil rights, language access, education, community relations, public health, mental health, and data to find creative solutions to help the AAPI community. These experts will coordinate the efforts of their federal agencies to work closely together with stakeholders to better understand the impediments to seeking relief and support, analyze data regarding the prevalence of bullying in the AAPI community, improve outreach, develop training and toolkits for schools, students, and parents, and explore and recommend policies to address the AAPI community’s growing concerns about bullying of AAPI youth.
Building upon previous efforts and working closely with federal representatives and community leaders, I look forward to seeing the AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force make much needed progress on this very important issue in the AAPI community and furthering our commitment to improving the quality of life of AAPIs.
Join the conversation on AAPI bullying prevention on Twitter using hashtag #AAPIstrong.
Kiran Ahuja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.