By Ed Diokno
Views from the Edge
Experts and officials will hesitate to say this outright, but I’ll say it: Donald Trump is the reason for the rise in racial harassment in our nation’s schools.
The increase represents the biggest rise of racial harassment since at least 2009, the earliest consecutive year for which we could find publicly reported numbers in this category, according to the data.
The OCR data basically reflects several other reports — all showing a increase in hate crimes and racial incidents, especially acts directed at Muslim and Asian American students.
Similar studies from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the South Asian American Leading Together (SAALT), Congress of American and Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the ACLU attribute the spike in hate crimes and incidents to emboldened white supremacists who believe Trumps apparent attacks against Mexicans, Muslims and other people of color and other marginal groups makes it OK to openly unleash their prejudices.
In a nationawide survey of 10,000 educators after the 2016 election, 90% of whom are teachers, by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, it was found that there were more than 2,500 reports of “negative incidents” of bigotry and harassment that can be directly tied to the rhetoric of the presidential campaign, according to the report, entitled “After Election Day: The Trump Effect.”
These incidents include posting graffiti such as swastikas and comments by students saying something along the lines of, “Better pack your bags. You’re going to be deported,” said Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance.
Zoe Savitsky, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, pointed to the numbers as evidence that the Trump administration is creating a toxic national environment that is in turn affecting schools.
Catherine Lhamon, who ran OCR during the Obama administration, said she could not speculate on the reasons for this increase, but pointed to outside data showing a surge in hate crimes nationally.
“Our schools are places that encapsulate and reflect the national climate as well,” said Lhamon, who is now chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “It is distressingly unsurprising that there might be an uptick in racial harassment complaints coming to OCR.”
During the Obama administration, OCR would investigate individual complaints while also considering whether there was a systemic problem at the school or school district. Under the proposed changes, the department said it would remove the word “systemic” from guidelines and instead focus on individual complaints. The AP reported that another revision of the OCR’s work would let schools negotiate with the department before parents see any of the department’s findings.
The majority of the racial incidents have been in the form of vandalism, verbal assaults and other forms of bullying.
Although only 17 percent of Asian American students report being bullied at school—the lowest number for any racial group—more bullied Asian Americans (11.1 percent) report being targeted for their race than Whites (2.8 percent), African Americans (7.1 percent) or Latinos (6.2 percent), according to the American Psychological Association.One study found that among middle and high school Asian American students, 17 percent experienced violence through weapons or the threat of weapons at least once in the past year.
Certain factors make particular Asian American students more vulnerable to harassment. Some may be targeted for being immigrants. More recent generations experience higher rates of bullying than 3rd generation students. Having difficulty speaking English or speaking with an accent can also increase the risk for bullying.
Others are antagonized for their religion or dress, such as Sikh students who wear turbans to school, according to the Obama White House. One study found that over two-thirds of Sikh students in Fresno, California experience harassment.
Students who suffer harassment may feel unsafe in the classroom, which can impair their ability to learn. Bullied students suffer from more physical and mental health disorders, higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and lower school and later career performance.
In an article for American Psychology Association, regional studies found:
- Among Korean American high school students in New York and New Jersey, 31.5 percent reported being bullied and 15.9 percent reported being aggressive victims (being bullied and bullying others). These students experienced higher levels of depression.
- A survey of more than 1,300 6th graders in California schools with predominantly Latino or Asian American students found that Asian Americans were the most frequently victimized ethnic group regardless of a school’s racial composition.
- At one multiethnic public school in NYC, Asian American students described students verbal harassment (e.g., racial slurs, being mocked, teased) and physical victimization (e.g., being randomly slapped in hallways, physically threatened, punched, having possessions stolen) more than other racial groups.
- Chinese American middle school students in Boston reported frequently experiencing race-based verbal and physical harassment by non-Asian peers. Harassing comments typically focused on Asian languages or accents, school performance and physical appearance. Boys more frequently reported physical harassment. Girls reported witnessing physical aggression toward Chinese American boys.
When asked by HuffPost for a comment, a Department of Education spokesperson did not respond.
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