Addressing Inequities in Education: Considerations for Asian American Children and Youth in the Era of COVID-19

By Melody Mann, CEI Intern

The global pandemic has triggered racial backlash in the Asian American community. Historically categorized as the Model Minority, a term that is used to dismiss the racism experienced by this group, Asian Americans are living in fear. Over 65% Chinese American children/adolescents and over 78% of parents are reporting worries about being profiled for the false assumptions many Americans hold as they blame China for the cause of this pandemic (Wakabayashi et al., 2020).

Since the virus was first discovered in Wuhan, China, Asian Americans have undergone racial attacks of xenophobic attitudes from bystanders and accusers alike (US Commission on Civil Rights, 2020). These targeted threats have increased feelings of insecurity, depression, anxiety, and PTSD among Asian Americans (Wakabayashi et al., 2020). Race-based judgements are beginning to enter our classrooms and schools alike. This racial discrimination and harassment can negatively impact the mental health of students returning to in-person instruction. Asian American youth and children are less likely to seek mental health care in part due to perceived stigma, language barriers, and lack of ethnic match with mental health providers.

Fight the Stigma 

It is critical for school and community leaders to proactively address COVID-19-related social stigma and discrimination. Here are steps to support Asian American youth and children’s psychological and physical safety while addressing social emotional and academic needs:

  • Integrate accurate coverage of Asian American history in school curriculum
  • Connect teachers/staff, families, and students with school-based mental health programs
  • Community healthcare providers can facilitate culturally-relevant, integrated mental and behavioral health services to provide resources to normalize help-seeking behaviors
  • Create dialogue among students, faculty, and staff in schools to support Asian American children’s mental health.
  • Educate students on the history of Asian Americans in the United States of America to promote inclusivity and integration 
  • Encourage policymakers to craft their messages to rid anti-Asian sentiments 

Integration and Awareness

By educating students about the historical context of Asian Americans, we reduce stigma and discrimination, and create safe spaces for all learners—regardless of their race, ethnicity, ability, or identity. Racial backlash is not uncommon. There are many known accounts of mistreatment towards Asians and Asian Americans in the U.S.’s past such as The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Japanese internment during World War II, and post-9/11 discrimination against South Asians. Asian Americans have repeatedly been depicted as perpetual foreigners.  Since over 59% of Asian Americans are foreign-born (Wakabayashi et al, 2020), they may face immigration-related challenges that include but are not limited to low wages, food insecurity, and hazardous working conditions. Labels like “perpetual foreigners” and “model minorities” that have been placed on Asian Americans have caused disparities in identity, belonging, and divisions across races (Lee & Ahn, 2011). 

Model Minority Myth 

To raise awareness and reduce bias against Asian Americans, students should be introduced to and taught about the origins of the stereotypes associated with this diverse group. The Model Minority Myth (MMM) emerged in the 1960s as a way for the dominant majority to dismiss the existence of systematic racism through portraying Asian Americans as academically and economically successful (Kim & Lee, 2014). This image led to a false privilege that was placed on Asian Americans as they struggled with first generation hurdles in employment and education.

In reality, Asian Americans are the least likely ethnic group to report speaking English fluently or with proficiency within the household. Children growing up with parents who have limited English proficiency may face challenges with online learning. Due to the MMM, Asian Americans are unlikely to seek academic assistance (Lee & Ahn, 2011). With the negative stereotypes integrated in students’ experience in the classroom, having lessons on MMM will reduce misinterpretations and bias. 

Be the Change 

Children and youth are the future of our nation. By providing them an anti-racist, inclusive, and reformed framework of ethnicity, race, and identity, we are creating safe spaces in classrooms across the nation. By opening the discussion of inequity in the classroom, we are bolstering a safe space for students to question, critique, and change societal perceptions of Asian Americans and other minorities alike. COVID-19 has shifted our reality; let’s work to maintain our humanity amid this pandemic. 

References

Kim, P. Y., & Lee, D. (2014). Internalized model minority myth, Asian values, and help-seeking attitudes among Asian American students. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 20(1), 98–106. 

Lee, D. L., & Ahn, S. (2011). Racial discrimination and Asian mental health: A meta-analysis. The Counseling Psychologist, 39(3), 463-489. 

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. (2020). The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights expresses concern over growing anti-Asian racism and xenophobia amid the COVID-19 outbreak

Wakabayashi, T., Cheah, C. S., Chang, T., Lai, G., Subrahmanyam, K., Chaudhary, N., . . . Patel, P. (2020). Addressing inequities in education: Considerations for Asian American children and youth in the era of COVID-19. Society for Research in Child Development.


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