College junior Jonathan Kim was more than aware of the existence of bullying based on race and ethnicity.
But when Kim — who also serves as vice chair of external affairs for the Asian Pacific Student Coalition — observed that most of the current events he was writing about in APSC’s newsletter were gravitating toward news pieces about racially-charged attacks on Asian Americans, he realized he was looking at a problem far greater than what he had expected.
In light of an increasing trend of violence and bullying toward Asian Americans across the nation, the APSC — Penn’s umbrella organization for Asian student groups — recently started a campaign to raise awareness about racial bullying.
Kim cited a 2009 study conducted by the U.S. Justice and Education Department, which found that 54 percent of Asian students in American schools were bullied in the classroom. Around 30 to 35 percent of students from other groups get bullied, according to the study.
The numbers hit particularly close to home, considering the 2009 controversy at nearby South Philadelphia High School, in which Asian-American students were attacked by fellow students.
For various constituent leaders under APSC — like College junior and President of the Chinese Student Association Anthony Tran — this news story was a strong wake-up call.
“It’s jarring because you’re here at a school where it’s very diverse and tolerant; but in the same city, there’s a school that doesn’t have the same atmosphere we have here,” he said.
Wharton senior and President of the Vietnamese Student Association Minh Nguyen said that during one of the group’s general body meetings, student leaders conducted an exercise in which the moderator asked how many people were bullied for their race growing up, and more than half of the students in the room raised their hands.
Both Nguyen and Tran believe that raising awareness about these issues is a necessary step in the right direction.
“It’s beneficial to think about these topics and foster some discussion in terms of how to address it,” Tran said. “Whatever is going on isn’t going to stop on its own volition unless there’s a wider response.”
Engineering junior and APSC Chair Michelle Leong agreed.
“I was kind of shocked to hear these kinds of stories,” she said. “Maybe it was kind of idealistic to think that these types of events didn’t exist or that people weren’t being targeted specifically just because they were Asian.”
However, Leong added that the problem doesn’t apply exclusively to the classroom.
Bullying and violence toward Asian Americans has also extended to the United States military, where the recent high-profile case of Private Danny Chen — who is believed to have committed suicide after being racially harassed by his fellow soldiers — drew national attention to racial prejudice within the armed forces.
In the Philadelphia area alone, there have been a string of attacks and robberies against Asian business owners in which authorities believe the victims were targeted because of their ethnicities.
For Leong, this has instilled a new mission for the APSC.
“Our primary purpose for this campaign is to raise awareness for all of these stories, nationally and locally,” she said.
While the anti-bullying initiative is still in its early stages, College junior and Vice Chair of Constituent Affairs for APSC Florence Sit listed tactics the organization will use. These include distributing flyers with student testimonials regarding bullying, as well as collaborating with Sangam — a Pan-Asian discussion group — and the Pan-Asian American Community House to foster dialogue about these issues in an open forum, which will take place today.
“We’re trying to aim for this campaign to be more long-run,” Sit said. “We’re also in contact with South Philly High School students who were bullied to possibly talk at a general body meeting.”
Leong added that she hopes the campaign will derail the stereotype of the “model minority” — the idea that Asians do well in everything.
“There are so many people who are suffering who are different from the model image that people have of Asian Americans,” she said. “I just hope that this campaign not only raises awareness on campus, but shows students who are targets of bullying that there is a support system in place on campus for them.”
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