Berkeley school district community members call for action against anti-Asian hate crimes

Photo of "Stop Targeting Asians" sign
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
A letter emailed to Brent Stephens, Berkley Unified School District, or BUSD, superintendent, responded to the school district’s delayed response toward anti-Asian violence during the past year and condemned the statement that Stephens had released March 19. The letter was written and signed by Asian American and Pacific Islander BUSD community members and allies.

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Updated 3/25/21: This article has been updated to reflect information from Wednesday’s BUSD board meeting.

Members of the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Asian American and Pacific Islander community emailed a letter to BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens on Tuesday, voicing their disapproval of how the district is addressing the uptick of Asian hate crimes.

The BUSD Asian American and Pacific Islander violence response letter was created in direct response to the school district’s delayed response in regards to violence against Asian Americans for the past year, according to the letter. The letter also condemned the statement Stephens released to the BUSD community March 19. 

According to Sharline Chiang, an Asian American and Pacific Islander advocate and BUSD parent, she felt “confused” when she initially saw Stephens’ statement. The statement was considered “insufficient” by signers of the letter and had caused community members to feel as if the district was not prioritizing Asian American and Pacific Islander safety, according to the letter.

Chiang pointed out that the statement’s headline neglected to mention the word “Asian,” sections discussing violence against Asians were buried under other content and the statement missed the mark because of the irrelevant information.

“The insufficiency felt hurtful,” Chiang said. “And also familiar in its inadequacy because of the nation’s long history of treating Asian Americans as invisible.”

More than 400 people signed the letter, including families in the district and Asian American and Pacific Islander teachers and staff members.

Signees are calling for BUSD to release a statement in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, share resources and create safe spaces for Asian American and Pacific Islander staff members to be able to have conversations about microaggressions and harassment.

“This isn’t just about the timing with the Atlanta shooting,” Chiang said. “They’ve had a year, and it’s been no secret that this has been happening.”

Ty Alper, BUSD Board of Education president, said in an email that BUSD director Ana Vasudeo worked with Berkeley Asian American and Pacific Islander advocates to draft a resolution that the board approved during the board’s regular meeting Wednesday. Alper added that he will be meeting with Asian American and Pacific Islander community leaders next week, along with Stephens and district leaders.

“I strongly condemn all forms of hate and violence, including the ongoing and alarming rise in racism and violence against members of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community,” Stephens said in an email. “The District’s commitment to protect our AAPI community remains steadfast.”

Chiang noted that the resolution will only be valuable if it is followed up with tangible actions the district will be implementing and it demonstrates that the district is vocal in its support of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

According to Chiang, she also spoke to Asian American and Pacific Islander educators and staff members in the district who shared that they had been reaching out to superiors and fellow colleagues for weeks in order to formulate a response to recent anti-Asian attacks but were largely ignored.

“How can we expect our children to speak up against racism when they see that the adult leaders in our district failed to do the same in a timely, meaningful manner?” Chiang said.

Contact Kelly Nguyen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KellyNguyen_DC.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article’s photo caption stated that the letter was signed by Asian American and Pacific Islander BUSD community members. In fact, allies of the community also signed the document.