The Asian Pacific American Advocates, also known as the OCA, holds a yearly national conference that caters to all ages. On July 19th, I was given the opportunity to speak on a panel entitled “No More Standing on the Sidelines” which was intended for the high school students on the “youth track.” Roughly seventy students were in attendance. The other panelists included Kisha Webster, Director of Education and Community Engagement for Welcoming Schools at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Hyacinth Alvaran, Diversity Program Manager at HRC, and Amrita Singh, the Legal and Legislative Affairs Associate at the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Monica Thammarath, the Senior Liaison for the National Education Association (NEA) moderated the discussion.
The panelists discussed bullying and hate crime incidences on school campuses, explored anti-bullying techniques, and shared student experiences. I was the youngest speaker as someone that recently graduated from high school. The other speakers had a wide breadth of experience in working with schools and bullying. Amrita spoke about her work with Sikh students and how they’re often bullied because of how different they look. I spoke about my experiences at school—specifically about the isolation and the lack of acceptance I felt in middle school. I also emphasized the need to have resources for students in schools. Hyacinth spoke about the lack of acceptance at home and at school and how it even drove her to bully her own family members, which continued the cycle of rejection and violence. Finally, Kisha spoke about her background as an educator in Maryland and then launched us into an activity called “Making Decisions: Ally or Bystander.” After a prompt was read, students could choose to either walk away and ignore the situation, talk privately to the person who committed the bullying or name-calling behavior, seek help from an adult, intervene to stop or mediate the situation, or do something else.
It was interesting to observe student responses. For example, one scenario that was discussed was how to respond when a group of students keep saying, “that’s so gay” to mean they don’t like something. A majority of students chose to ignore the situation. When asked why students responded that way, they said that these words had lost their meaning because they were used so often and have now become mainstream. It was an interesting perspective, even for me because I just left high school and thought it was derogatory, but after hearing their response, I could understand why students felt that way. Some things are part of popular culture, despite how bad they are.
Overall, there was a lot of interaction between the panelists and students, which was exciting. The students seemed engaged in the activity and what the panelists were saying. Afterwards, students came up to ask specific questions or to thank us and ask more about our work. I was approached about work GLSEN does and about my overall experience. It’s refreshing to see so many students engage on such a critical topic.
GLSEN Public Policy Intern