Why We Need to Care about Bias-Based Bullying

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.

Learn more about SAALT’s Young Lead­ers Insti­tute and our incom­ing 2013 Young Lead­ers!

 

Manpreet Kaur Teji
Pro­gram Asso­ciate, South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT)
Vol­un­teer Advo­cate, The Sikh Coali­tion