When I was 4 years old, I remember my older brother coming home one day from Junior High with distress and tears. Although, at that age, I did not comprehend every single thing that was talked about, I knew one thing–my brother was hurt and upset. Later, I found out that another student grabbed his turban from behind him while he was walking. This same student had taunted him for weeks about his turban before the incident, but no administrator at the school did anything about it. At the time, I did not even know about bullying or who a bully was, all I knew is I never wanted my brother to experience this again. This situation was finally resolved only after the school administration saw to what degree the attack took place.
It is a known fact that bias-based bullying and harassment towards South Asian students and families is a growing problem. According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education study, over 54 Percent of Asian American youth reported experiencing bullying, the highest percentage of any ethnic group surveyed. In SAALT’s report, In the Face of Xenophobia, the New York City Department of Education and the Sikh Coalition’s 2007 report indicates that in the nation’s most diverse neighborhood of Queens, 77.5 percent of young Sikh men reported being harassed, taunted, or intimidated because of wearing a turban. Like my brother, many students and community members face harassment every day because of their ethnic and racial identity and religion. But what comes across as more problematic than the issue itself is that there is no system in place to prevent bullying before it happens or so it never happens again. Currently, legislation is being considered in Congress that will help vulnerable students and families. The Safe Schools Improvement Act is a proposed federal anti-bullying law. If enacted, it will require schools and school districts to collect and publicize data about incidents of bullying and harassment. This will create incentives for school officials to protect students and allow government agencies to quickly identify schools and school districts where problems exist. It is important that our policymakers know that this is and important step in protecting all victims from bullying in our schools. Last summer, with the helpful guidance from the Sikh Coalition, I went to Capitol Hill and lobbied two congressional offices with the hope that they would consider this an important issue and act on it.
This piece of legislation is very important but creating effective tools to prevent bullying and educate students is just as critical. Personally, I was very distressed growing up seeing more and more Sikh children facing such gruesome bullying incidents. I wanted to help in any capacity I could, even if it was small. While in college, I created a “Combating Bullying” project with leadership training from the Sadie Nash Leadership Foundation. I was able to develop lesson plans for 8 workshops bringing 8 Sikh youth together every 2 weeks to learn about bullying, understand that they are not alone in this process, and explore various resources that were available for them if they were bullied again. Upon completion of the program, the students were more confident and better able to address the issue.
In July, SAALT will be bringing students from across the country to the nation’s capital to attend the 2013 Young Leaders Institute. The students will build leadership skills, explore social change strategies around bias-based bullying among South Asian and immigrant communities in the US, and develop exciting project ideas to enact change on their campuses and in their communities. I am excited to work with these Young Leaders and support their creative projects to educate peers, raise awareness, and campaign for change as they work for a safer schools, safer families, and safer communities.