Working to End Bullying in All Forms

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“Boys will be boys.”

“It happens to everyone.”

“It builds character.”

Unfortunately, these are considered legitimate defenses to bullying in our society. Bullying is pervasive in communities across the country; however, bullying in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities can stem from an entirely different motive. Subtle microaggressions stemming from anti-immigrant sentiments or white privilege can quickly stem into physical, sexual, or emotional bullying. Bullying of children in the AAPI community, no matter the perpetrator, can substantially impact the well-being of children and their views about their place in society and sense of belonging.

I was lucky in my childhood – I wasn’t bullied, but plenty of my peers were. As my generation was becoming known for the use of social media, the internet was becoming the new venue for online harassment, on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Formspring. In Iowa, the development of technology was not reflected in our legal system. If a complaint of cyberbullying was brought to school officials, the administration had no legal jurisdiction to protect the victim or punish the perpetrator, because the bullying occurred online and outside of school property. This created a huge gap in the frequency of bullying and the extent to which school administrators could protect their students’ emotional and educational well-being. Through my involvement in the Iowa Youth Congress, a mock congress of high school students, we proposed a bill in the Iowa State Legislature that would close this gap and protect students from being bullied online.

In the summer of 2015, I was an Advocacy Intern at the Hindu American Foundation. Dr. Murali Balaji, our Director of Education and Curriculum Reform, approached me with a project, analyzing bullying among Hindu students across the nation. While conducting this research, I reflected on my high school work on bullying.  I realized that my experiences helped me empathize and work with other victims of bullying. By talking to friends and victims of bullying across Iowa, I learned that those defenses to bullying, the “boys will be boys”, are a part of a rhetoric that works against our youth and it defends harassment as an inherent part of our society. That facet of our society is incredibly detrimental to our children. Bullying leads to worse performance in school, and has mental and emotional effects that can even lead to self-harm or suicide. Treating bullying as normal perpetuates a system that normalizes harassment. Breaking down this system is integral to boost the well-being of children who are bullied, especially minority and AAPI children. Working for legislation and conducting research and reports on bullying, are all work that contributes to awareness of bullying, and recognizes that it should not be tolerated by our society. Campaigns like Act To Change play an integral role in empowering youth, educators, and lawmakers to treat bullying as a serious problem. That’s why we can no longer sit on the sidelines: we have to Act to Change.

Aditi Dinakar is a rising Junior at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She is studying Marketing and Health Administration and Policy. She hopes to work in government affairs, advocacy, and public policy arena.  Last summer, she was an intern for the Hindu American Foundation, where she worked on the intersection of faith and bullying among Hindus in America. Aditi is passionate about women’s rights, Asian American rights and representation, and new ice cream flavors.

Hindu American students continue to be bullied and feel socially ostracized for their religious beliefs, according to results of Hindu American Foundation’s nationwide survey of middle and high school students.  Download the report here.

This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org

How a Hindu American’s experience being bullied in school still lingers today

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Kids. They pick on each other for such ridiculous things. One of my most distinct memories from 5th grade is my classmates snickering about how much I clicked my pen, and commenting about how it made me “gay” (a word en vogue at the time as something bad that none of us really understood). Although it’s almost funny in retrospect, it was quite troubling at the time, and led me to go home in tears. I had to buy a new pen to stop my classmates from teasing me with a slur I didn’t even understand.  While this was a  minor trifle, easily solved, a lot of the other bullying I faced in middle school was more insidious and damaging – not to mention much more difficult to “solve”. I’m a Hindu American, and I grew up in Texas with textbooks that represented my religion in a way that inspired an inaccurate, misogynistic, exclusivist understanding of Hinduism. The kids in class asked what caste I was, why I worshipped cows, and confidently told me that I was going to hell. I could throw away a malfunctioning pen, but the impact that the snickering, insolent questions, and sarcasm from my teachers had on my understanding of who I was and what I believed was something that actually shook my sense of self. That took far more work to repair. I understood my faith to be grounded in pluralism (a step beyond tolerance), and the basis for my moral values (essentially, who I was). To be told that Hinduism was actually the source of discrimination, that it didn’t value me highly as a woman, and that its ancient practices were too weird to accept in our modern American classroom made me feel small and almost deserving of the thinly veiled disdain I received from even my friends. Bullying is a terrible thing in every form, but when attacks come at who a person is… the wounds cut deeply, and infection is a great threat. This experience isn’t mine alone, and not just one faced by Hindus; it’s one that so many Asian Americans face, and why the Act To Change campaign is such an important movement towards empowerment.

As an adult, the only balm I’ve found is in remembering that a textbook, a teacher, or a confused friend can’t define who I am, or what my faith is. I define my narrative. The prouder I am of that, the easier it is for my siblings, for my nephews and nieces, for the kids I’ve mentored, to own who they are as well.

Hindu American students continue to be bullied and feel socially ostracized for their religious beliefs, according to results of Hindu American Foundation’s nationwide survey of middle and high school students.  Download the report here.

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Kavita Pallod is a graduate of the University of Texas and a current doctoral student pursuing her Psy.D in Clinical Psychology at Rutgers University. She is an Executive Council Member of the Hindu American Foundation, a participating member of Act to Change. She hopes to use her  passion for her faith and her former teaching background to create fair, accurate, representative resources on Hinduism for teachers to use in their classrooms. She is also invested in mental health, and bridging the gap between the Hindu American community and mental health resources.  

This blog post is part of ActToChange.org’s features of voices against bullying. “Act To Change” is a public awareness campaign to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. For more information, visit www.ActToChange.org