Presentation on South Philadelphia High School and Anti-Asian Violence

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Cecelia Chen (photo by Todd Lee)

Presentation by Cecilia Chen of Asian American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, July 24th at Program co-sponsored by API Movement

Overview of Anti-Asian Harassment in Schools Throughout the Country

Anti-Asian Harassment in Schools is a problem that is commonly overlooked but affecting Asian American students in schools throughout the country.

Basic statistics on harassment in schools is difficult to find, but in New York City, a survey of approximately 1,000 public school students showed:  

  • 26% of students said that they had experienced bias-based harassment in their school
  • 38% of students reported that they had witnessed bias-based harassment in their school
  • 63% of students felt that they were targeted because of their race or ethnicity;
  • 27% felt they were targeted b/c of their religion;
  • 21% felt they were targeted b/c of their nationality/ immigration status
  • 18% of all reported harassment includes physical hitting and/or violence.  

Specific Cases

Some specific cases that AALDEF has worked on throughout the country has included:

  • In New York City, Lafayette High School, in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where there is a significant and growing Asian immigrant population.  This was a historically Jewish and Italian neighborhood, where the Asian population grew from 5% to 10% in five years. It was nicknamed “Horror High” because of the high levels of anti-Asian violence. Name calling, food throwing, physical violence occurred on a regular basis. One Chinese student beaten until he was unconscious, and another Chinese student was beaten on the subway platform even after he showed his attackers that he had no money. However, the school took no action until the U.S. Department of Justice threatened to bring a lawsuit after a 2-year investigation.  This case resulted in a court-monitored consent decree, where the school pledged to develop a policy on harassment  and to heighten diversity awareness.
  • Also in New York City, alarming levels of anti-Muslim bias occur in schools. One case in Queens took place when a Muslim student was harassed by his peers. Student peers called him “a Hindu”; the student told peers he wasn’t Hindu, he was Muslim. Then, he was called “a terrorist.”  In response, the student said “If I was a terrorist, wouldn’t there be bombs in the school?” The school’s response to this incident was to suspend the boy and call the police.  The school threatened to suspend the Muslim student for 3 months but took no actions to address harassment.
  • On Long Island, a Chinese American middle-school student harassed by peers. He was called “chink” on numerous occasions, chased down the hall, taunted, subject of anti-Asian graffiti in bathroom, and subject to cyber and cell phone bullying. Although incidents were reported to school, the school never disciplined the harassers. On the occasions where student stood up for himself, he was disciplined by school staff and administrators.
  • In Texas, two sisters adopted from China faced constant teasing and bullying at local elementary school.  They were called “China doll,” kicked, and taunted by peers.

 Trends in Anti-Asian School Violence

The trends that AALDEF has seen have been indifference by school officials to address harassment. There is a real unwillingness to admit that there is a problem, and a refusal to develop and implement solutions to address harassment through things like trainings, systematic reporting, comprehensive policies and procedures for handling incidents of harassment. Second, underreporting of these incidents happens due to language access issues, including lack of appropriate interpretation, and failure to translate materials to students/parents. Finally, school discipline is applied unfairly, and victims of harassment will be disciplined for fighting back

AALDEF’s work in Philadelphia

We began working with students and local advocates in the fall of 2008 on violence against Asian immigrant students in South Philadelphia High School and Fels High School in north Philadelphia. Since December 3, we have continued to work closely with community advocates and students providing legal support. Among the actions, we have taken was:

  • Filing an administrative complaint with U.S. Department of Justice for civil rights violations
  • Filing complaints against School District with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission for harassment against Asian students
  • Providing legal defense to wrongfully accused students in school discipline cases

People can help by sending a letter of support. A letter of support template to the DOJ is attached below.  It encourages the DOJ to take legal action against the School District.

Please send out to interested individuals or groups.

File 1 Description: 
Ltr of support - DOJ Philly.doc