“Before Los Angeles public schools shut campuses in mid-March, bullies in the San Fernando Valley accused a 16-year-old Asian boy of having the coronavirus simply because of his race. They beat him badly enough to send him to the emergency room,” Katherine Kam, a California-based journalist, wrote in her article “Asian American students face bullying over Covid”.
The racism in schools mirrors a broader societal problem of coronavirus-related racism toward Asians. Russell Jeung, PhD, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, helped to launch “Stop Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate” a reporting site to track anti-Asian incidents in the US. From March 19 to July 15, the site had received 2,373 self-reported incidents, according to Stop AAPI Hate. Jeung called the numbers the tip of an iceberg.
Bullying at educational institutes is also a form of racial discrimination. Asian immigrants and their next generations come up against bullying not only in their local community but also in the educational institutes.
“Despite implementing anti-bullying prevention programmes in almost every school within the United States, Europe, and some initiatives in low-income countries, yet bullying is more pervasive problems in schools than any other problems,” Nahla Mansour Al-Ali and Khulood K Shattnawi (Jordan University of Science and Technology) wrote in their research.
In their study on “social network predictors of bullying and victimisation (the University of Southern California, Department of Preventive Medicine, USA) highlight a survey of more than 1,300 6th graders in California schools found that Asian-Americans were the most frequently victimised ethnic group.
“Asian-American students described students verbal harassment (racial slurs, being mocked, teased) and physical victimisation (being randomly slapped in hallways, physically threatened, punched, having possessions stolen) more than other racial groups.
Racism at schools
Australia’s national Kids Help Line telephone counselling service shared the call of a 12-year-old-boy being teased and received threats of violence from kids at school because of his Asian background. The caller said the teasing also occurs outside of school by adults as well as kids.
Desmond Cahill in his “Immigration and Schooling in the 1990s” (1996) described the nature of the racism experienced by students from language backgrounds other than English in schools:
“Examples of racist behaviour mentioned by teachers included name-calling and bullying, culturally biased nicknames, resentment towards support given to non-English speaking background (NESB) students, ostracism of NESB students by other students, constant ‘sending up’ of NESB students in class, NESB students being told to return to their homeland, NESB students being taken advantage of because of their lack of English, off-hand racist comments made and thought to be funny, occasional fights triggered by racist views or taunts and students refusing to work with racially different students.”
A school student, quoted in Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission: “It happened more than once. Several Australian students have tried to corner me during recess. They said Asian students were never wanted at their school.” The report of the National Inquiry into Racist Violence in Australia, 1991 revealed many such horrifying facts.
Teachers a role model?
Even teachers, principals and administrative staff members support bullying and racism at educational institutes. People who are considered torchbearers have been found part of it. Research into ethnicity and education in Australia (Partington 1998b), stated: Teachers can be the foundation of racism, particularly at a time when there appears to be more public acceptance of negativity towards ethnic minority group members. In their day-to-day teaching, the way they interact with students can be quite hurtful.
Examples of teachers’ racist behaviour reported in the study included telling jokes that devalue particular cultural or ethnic groups, labelling students of particular ethnic or cultural groups so that they are perceived according to stereotypes rather than as individuals, giving less help and attention to students of particular cultural groups than to others, making demeaning comments about particular cultural or ethnic groups, refusing to make allowances for English language support needs for students from non-English speaking backgrounds and encouraging students from particular groups to leave school because teachers believe they have little hope of success in schooling, based on a stereotyped view of that group.
A study of Asian girls’ experiences in high school (Matthews 1996) narrated the story of a girl who described an incident where a teacher allowed racist assumptions to be openly discussed and promoted by students in the classroom: “And then she started saying stuff about how Asians were taking over Australia and we took all their jobs, and all the other girls started saying how we were all bad and everything like that. But the thing is that the teacher did not stop them. It was just like constant abuse and after that, every single day it was like pick on Asians.”
In the same study another student described being treated differently by a teacher because she was Asian: “She [the teacher] did not really talk directly to us, she only talked directly to the Australians and that made us really angry and we felt left out. She did not ask us any questions… but she mainly asked Australians. And when she is using names in the classrooms she did not use us at all.”
When the student confronted the teacher later about the situation, the teacher explained that she thought that the students didn’t need any help because they were bright and always quiet in class.
Basically, the idea of racism is so deeply woven in the whole society of so-called civilised countries that even education cannot play its part in changing the narrow-minded ideology of White Supremacy.
Sarah Page, a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology, Staffordshire University, wrote in her article The racism faced by teenagers in the UK: New research: “The teenagers reported experiencing racism from both peers and teachers at school. For example, Muslim girls told us about their headscarves being pulled off by fellow pupils, and a teenager told us that he was kicked frequently when playing football at school and that he was a target for racial abuse.”
She further wrote that the young people said schools did not adequately address racist bullying. They felt that some teachers favoured white students and did not fairly distribute punishment when racist incidents occurred. Some pupils moved school as a result of unresolved racial abuse.
The educational set-ups need to be revised when different ethnic groups become part of society. Teachers and educational leaders need to be trained in this regard by the government.
Sarah claimed that “most teachers in the UK are white and the failings reported by the teenagers we heard from may stem from their teachers being inadequately trained on issues of racism and unaware of their white bias. Teachers from ethnic minority groups are unrepresented in our education system, especially in leadership positions. The lack of diversity in the teaching workforce – as well as failures in the curriculum – have been suggested as contributing factors to the underachievement of Black Caribbean pupils in schools. Young people in our study felt that schools did not teach about racism and associated issues enough.”
Consequences of bullying
A report by UNICEF published in 2019 highlighted that children who are frequently bullied are three times more likely to feel like an outsider at school and more than twice as likely to miss school as those who are not frequently bullied. Children who are bullied have worse educational outcomes than children who do not.
The report further revealed that such students score lower in mathematics and reading tests, and the more often they are bullied the worse their score.
Children who are frequently bullied are also more likely to leave formal education after finishing secondary school compared with children who are not frequently bullied. School violence and bullying affect the overall attainment of the student population of a school.
Poor discipline and an unsafe school environment are associated with lower academic achievement and, more specifically, students in schools where bullying is frequent score lower in science tests than those in schools where bullying occurs less often.
Bullying can have a significant impact on children’s mental health, quality of life and risk behaviours. Children who are bullied are around twice as likely to feel lonely, to be unable to sleep at night and to have contemplated suicide as those who are not bullied.
Self-reported quality of health and life satisfaction is lower among children who are bullied and who are both bullies and victims of bullying than those who are not involved in bullying. Bullying is also associated with higher rates of smoking, alcohol and cannabis use…”
Health consequences of bullying
Various researchers have studied the impact of bullying on the health of children “Victims of bullying reported poor mental and physical health, more symptoms of anxiety, depression, feeling sad, being loneliness, vomiting, sleep disturbance, nightmares, body ache, headache, abdominal pain, and frequent illnesses. This, in turn, increases students’ absenteeism either from direct physical or indirect psychological impact,” Nahla Mansour Al-Ali and Khulood K. Shattnawi (Jordan University of Science and Technology) wrote in their research on bullying in schools among students age 15–29, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
School bullying and academic achievement
Numerous studies have indicated that bullying negatively affect the academic performance of students. “It is also found to affect their academic achievements and their classwork directly. The theoretical and empirical literature has been supported the direct association between bullying and student’ academic achievements,” the research further found. “Peer victimisation and low academic performance often correlated because children who have chronically victimised experience negative emotional and psychological outcomes that can inhibit their engagement in the classroom and thus affected their academic achievement.”
Counter bullying and racism policies
“Bullying or harassment of Asian American students because of their race isn’t just a school issue, but violates their civil rights,” says Jeff Forte, JD, a special education attorney in Shelton, CT.
“Parents of Asian background should understand that if their child is getting bullied at school that they do have rights.”
Katherine Kam, writes in her article Asian American Students Face Bullying Over Covid: “Get the specific facts down, any witnesses, any photos, if there was written defamation or slander if there was physical contact that showed any marks or abuse. Then parents should file an official bullying report with the school district, preferably within 24 hours of the incident, Forte says. School districts must investigate the incident, provide parents with the results in writing, and then put safeguards in place if bullying was confirmed.”
Kam mentioned in her article Shi Yan Liu, 16, a Chinese American student in Brooklyn: As Asians, “we’ve grown up in an environment where we’re told to be silent. We have been portrayed as meek and weak. When we’re faced with issues such as bullying and micro-aggressions we’re taught to stay silent and not speak up for ourselves.”
Silence accelerates the problem instead of solving it. Parents need to train their children to speak up for their rights and stand united. Children must be given awareness of their rights and not be suppressed.
Effectiveness of state laws
As reported in Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2019: “In the United States schools can be held legally responsible for student conduct if bullying is based on gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, ethnicity, or a physical or mental disability.”
As of 2019, all 50 US states and the District of Columbia have anti-bullying laws in place.
According to a report published in the Cornell Law Review in 2018, only nine states have laws in place that include all 16 of the department’s recommendations.
Research has also found that the effectiveness of state laws may vary. An analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2015 found that state statutes with explicit and detailed descriptions of prohibited conduct and clearly stated legal consequences for offenders had stronger associations with reduced bullying rates.
In England Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 states that schools must have measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils. These measures must be communicated to all pupils, school staff and parents. The headteacher must follow through and adopt the policy and all students, parents and teachers should be notified of it once it has been decided. However many bullying incidents clearly depict the opposite.
As the school staff becomes part of bullying or simply ignores it tagging it a behavioural issue.
Such laws can easily be found in countries all over the globe; however, the laws do not change the mentality and mindset of people in a community. Many of the cases are not reported by students out of fear and suppression.
The few that speak up for themselves are quietened by the institutional staff behaviour. It is a failure of the educational system that students don’t feel safe and comfortable to study.
Institutions that are considered the home of learning and collaboration provides an opposite picture for Asian immigrant children.