Berkeley school district panel discusses history of anti-Asian racism, actions moving forward

photo of stop Asian hate rally in the streets of Berkeley
Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
A panel for the Berkeley Unified School District was convened Thursday. The discussion at hand was how to address anti-Asian violence.

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Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, district representatives and district members of the Asian American community met Thursday for a panel on anti-Asian racism centered around its history, panelist experiences and how BUSD can improve moving forward.

The discussion was moderated by BUSD board director Ana Vasudeo and was a collaboration between the BUSD School Board, Superintendent’s Office and Office of Civil Rights as well as a new BUSD Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, group of community members.

Panelists included UC Berkeley associate professor of Asian American and Asian diaspora studies Khatharya Um, BUSD parents Julie Kono-Manning and Prashant Jawalikar, BUSD students Abigail Lamoreaux and Jessica Hipona and Berkeley High School student welfare and attendance specialist David Luu.

During the panel, Sharline Chiang, a representative from the AAPI group, noted that the lack of Pacific Islander representation on the panel was because members of the Pacific islander community had approached the group about becoming separate to avoid decentering their specific experiences. Chiang acknowledged their movement for separation and said the group was working to be respectful of the Pacific Islander experience.

After opening remarks, Vasudeo began by asking each of the panelists questions. When asked about the increase in and context of anti-Asian racism, Um said current racism and violence has “deeper roots” in United States’ history.

“This was not just in the distant past,” Um said during the event. “Now, we have the resurgence of that violence in the context of the pandemic. … When there is a public health crisis or an economic downturn, people pick a scapegoat.”

Kono-Manning, who was born and raised in Berkeley, also said she had seen an increase in violence against the Asian American community, especially those who are “first-generation” or non-English speakers.

Vasudeo next asked Hipona why there should be additional education about the Asian American community. Hipona said she once shared a presentation about Lunar New Year with her first-grade class only to be called names by peers afterward.

“The possibility that you could do that to someone was already in their heads at six or seven,” Hipona said during the event. “That shows a lot about what we are being taught right now, or what we are not being taught.”

Luu recommended that BUSD schools try to address such instances of racist behavior through a two-fold approach — engaging with the perpetrator to educate them and collecting data on reported incidences to track what is going on in schools.

Looking forward, Jawalikar said to increase acceptance for the Asian American community, BUSD members should note where curricula are lacking, while students should be exposed to more perspectives through field trips or local experiences. Lamoreaux further suggested teachers survey students to see what they want to know about Asian and Asian American history and noted the importance of hiring more diverse teachers.

Superintendent Brent Stephens concluded the panel by emphasizing the importance of work between students, educators and BUSD officials.

“We must draw from the energy that is in this moment and move forward together,” Stephens said during the event.

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.