By Guest Contributor Sukjong Hong
No one promises junior high school will be easy. But for Pawanpreet Singh, a tall and mild-mannered Sikh-American teenager, junior high was overshadowed with the memories of classmates calling him “Osama” and “terrorist” and touching his turban. “I would hear at least one comment per day … I felt like I was less than everyone else, and some other species. It took a toll on my self esteem and academics,” he said. Now, as a high school student advocate, he hears from other students around the city who face the same insults and get no help from the school staff they call upon. At a September 5th press conference in lower Manhattan, Singh recalled a 13-year old student who reported to his teacher that his classmate had called him a “raghead.” According to the student, the teacher replied, “What’s the problem? That’s what you are.”
It has been five years since New York City’s Department of Education established a regulation to address bias-based bullying regulation in schools, Chancellor’s Regulation A-832. (PDF) The regulation was the result of years of advocacy by community and legal groups in the aftermath of three high-profile incidents of harassment against Sikh-American students. On paper, the regulation is comprehensive, with measures for defining, reporting, addressing, and preventing bias-based harassment in schools. But a survey conducted by a coalition of community and legal groups, including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the Sikh Coalition, the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) and CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, revealed that bias-based bullying is still a far too common experience for Asian-American students.
Based on the responses of 163 students in after school programs, youth leadership meetings and houses of workshop across the city, the report by AALDEF and the Sikh Coalition, One Step Forward, Half A Step Back, finds that half of the students surveyed had experienced bias-based harassment at school. What’s even more unacceptable, according to Amardeep Singh, Program Director of the Sikh Coalition, is that more than 25 percent of Sikh students experienced physical violence based on their identity.