Reopening for All Requires Safe Schools and Workplaces for Asian Americans | From the Editor

With COVID abating, the mood is palpably lighter. Not so for Asian Americans, who fear a return to school and work—just 18 percent of Asian eighth graders returned to in-person classrooms this spring. Schools and employers must take specific action to protect AAPIs from hate, say advocates, with alternatives to more policing.

Posters by Amanda-Phingbodhipakkiya


With the pandemic easing in the United States, people are venturing out and ­shedding—along with loungewear and masks—a measure of fear. As we return to the workplace and school, the general vibe is palpably lighter. Not so among Asian Americans for whom the prospect of living more publicly has many ­concerned about safety.

“I am very nervous,” says Melissa Cardenas-Dow, social sciences librarian at the Sacramento campus of California State University. She’s inclined to keep working from home, because, for one, “I don’t want to walk alone in the parking lot,” she told me.

For good reason. One in 10 Asian Americans reported experiencing anti-Asian hate in the first quarter of 2021, according to AAPI Data. ­Verbal ­harassment (65 percent) and shunning (18 ­percent)—the deliberate avoidance of Asians—are the incidents most frequently reported, followed by physical ­attacks (12.6 percent), which are up this year from 2020, found Stop Asian Hate.

Children and their families are fearful, too. Only 18 percent of Asian eighth graders returned to in-person school as of April 2021, compared to 54 ­percent of white students.

While COVID is abating, anti-Asian sentiment remains without a cure. Fueled by “the Chinese virus” and other expressions of racial scapegoating, hate has permeated environments that comprise a major portion of our lives: school and work.

Of the 6,603 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination reported to Stop Asian Hate since March 2020, more than 32 percent occurred in the workplace or places of business, which constitute civil rights violations.

It’s “‘Oh, let’s put out another reading list,’ but nothing that addresses physical concerns,” says Cardenas-Dow, on the response to anti-Asian ­bigotry. Sacramento State’s APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American) faculty association met recently to discuss ideas to protect students. “We can talk amongst ourselves,” says Cardenas-Dow. But it’s up to institutions to take action, and blanket anti-harassment policies aren’t enough, she says. “How do we do this without increasing surveillance or ­policing, which is also important to people of color—balancing that is a big thing.”

NCTE president and educator Alfredo Celedón Luján reiterates the organization’s commitment to every child’s right to read, write, and learn, saying, “I would encourage parents and young people to make sure their administrations in school and the workplace have zero tolerance policies for any ­verbal, physical, and cyberbullying assaults on Asian Americans.”

The Stop AAPI Hate Youth Campaign also urges schools to be proactive in reaching out to families to discuss and offer services around racially motivated bullying. Other recommendations they issued to California school superintendents in April include a school-based anonymous reporting system on ­bullying; restorative practices for students involved in bullying incidents; and facilitating racial ­affinity groups, such as Asian Student Unions, to foster a sense of community among students and educators. “Training should extend beyond diversity, ­equity, and inclusion and encompass Ethnic ­Studies [and] anti-racist and anti-bias practices,” adds the ­campaign statement.

Bystander training has been promoted to counter anti-Asian hate, but that puts the onus on individuals to take action. De-escalation training can transform and lessen the need for law enforcement and would require organizational power to realize.

“I’d like to hear about more alternatives to ­policing,” says Cardenas-Dow. “Students have held ­rallies, they want this.”



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Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

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