How to Address Anti-Asian Racism in Schools

As schools nationwide return to in-person learning, educators are looking for ways to protect Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students following a rise in hate crimes against the AAPI community.

From mid-March 2020 to the end of March 2021, 6,603 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a group that documents anti-Asian discrimination. The number of incidents increased by 74% in March 2021 alone. Young people (0 to 17 years old) reported 11% of the incidents recorded since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We’ve been able to document the issue well, so that we understand the widespread nature of racism against Asian Americans, and we’ve been able to raise awareness,” says Russell Jeung, a professor at San Francisco State University and co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate. “We know racism is happening in schools, on public transit, in stores, and on the streets. We have different prescriptions for each location.”

Ways for School Leaders to Address Anti-Asian Racism

We spoke with Jeung about the rise in anti-Asian racism across the country and how to address it. Stop AAPI Hate advises educators to take the following steps.

1. Denounce Racism

Superintendents and principals could set the tone with an official statement denouncing racism and hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The statement should also lay out how schools will keep students safe and ensure their well-being. Such an acknowledgment will go a long way toward creating a school climate based on respect and inclusion.

2. Review the Curriculum

Schools should integrate ethnic studies and anti-racism curriculum into coursework, to address the roots of racism and promote empathy and racial justice. “Students can come to understand what it means to be an outsider, or to be excluded, and that could help them to develop racial empathy,” says Jeung.

This timeline of AAPI history is a starting point. Delve deeper with these resources for teaching about the diversity of AAPI voices. Yet another resource for teachers to use in the classroom is the free zine Unmasking Yellow Peril, which was written in collaboration with the University of Connecticut’s Asian American Studies Institute at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to address the escalation of anti-Asian violence and hate. And here are ways to support Arab American students and counter negative narratives in the classroom.

3. Confront Bullying

Schools must have a system for reporting all bullying, whether it's against Asians or anyone else, in a way that ensures the students who do so remain anonymous. Students often want to speak up, but don’t always know who to approach for help, and they don’t want to be targeted for taking action.

School leaders should also have a plan for responding to hate incidents. Jeung suggests looking to restorative justice models that use peer mediation to address conflicts, restore relationships, and build community.

"Zero tolerance, like if you have a fight, you're immediately expelled, isn't helpful," he says. "The restorative justice model where you have peer hearings addressing the issue and students can come to understand how the victim feels, that's been found to be more effective. It reduces suspensions and bullying."

4. Train Teachers

Teachers need to be empowered with strategies for addressing hate incidents. They should be incorporating lessons on the consequences of bias and discrimination. Resources compiled by New York City’s Department of Education and the Mayor’s Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC) provide ways to start student discussions and offer guidance in how they can stand up against hate.

Jeung says teachers would also benefit from training that helps them become aware of their own implicit biases. The training should include discussion and strategies on how to understand students from different cultures, how to be empathetic, as well as how to nurture an empathetic and inclusive classroom environment. These resources on challenging anti-Asian biases and acting as an ally can help.

5. Address Mental Health

Educators must look after the well-being of Asian American students who are experiencing racial trauma, especially considering the reluctance in the AAPI community to seek mental health support.

"Sometimes, based on the model minority stereotype, we assume that Asians are doing okay, they're doing well academically, and we don't see some of the mental health distress they may be experiencing," says Jeung.

A report conducted by the Stop AAPI Hate Youth Campaign in the summer of 2020 found that 77% of AAPI youth expressed anger over the anti-Asian hate in this country, 60% expressed disappointment over racism, and 30% expressed fear after a hate incident.

AAPI Hate encourages school leaders to be proactive in the face of this discouraging data. They might reach out to parents and families in their primary language to see how they're doing, provide culturally responsive mental health resources, and do regular classroom check-ins.

To report an anti-Asian hate incident or to learn more about what you can do to help, visit stopaapihate.org. Combat bias in all its forms using these free resources.

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