Civic engagement is a key component of AAFSC’s youth program. On Wednesday, October 19th, Saif, 10, testified at City Hall to share his experience of being bullied at school for his identity as an Arab Muslim, and he offered his perspective on how to solve in-school harassment targeted at minority groups.
Saif testified before the New York City Council’s Education Committee, chaired by Council Member Daniel Dromm, at an oversight hearing titled “Bullying, Harassment, and Discrimination in NYC Schools—Protecting LGBT and Other Vulnerable Students.”
In 2010, New York State passed the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), requiring all public schools to report bullying incidents to a public database so that school leaders and education officials could better address the issue. However, according to an August 2016 report from State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, bullying incidents are largely underreported—in the 2013-2014 school year, 71% of NYC public schools reported zero incidents of bullying, harassment or discrimination.
At the hearing, parents, students, educators, advocates, and other stakeholders shared their experiences and provided recommendations to the Education Committee, and Saif was the only youth who spoke directly to the AMEMSA youth experience. AAFSC’s Deputy Executive Director Ambreen Qureshi also testified on behalf of the organization and the AMEMSA community at-large.
Here is Saif’s testimony:
Hello everyone. My name is Saif, and I am 10 years old. I go to Math and Science Exploratory School in Brooklyn. I have been going to the Arab-American Family Support Center my whole life. I attend the Youth Program, where they help me with my homework and they also take us out for trips. Now that I’m in Middle School, I’m part of the Boys Club, where we talk about bullying.
For African American, Muslim, Arab, and Hispanic communities, it’s harder for us, especially Muslims. In school kids make fun of you just because of how you look, or what you wear, or how you talk, or what you believe in. I think kids bully other kids because they were bullied. I think bullying has gotten worse in the past year because of social media. There’s all of these news headlines, like “Muslim man crashes plane,” or “Puerto Rican guy drug theft,” or “African American gun violence.” These headlines separate groups of people and make them seem dangerous.
At my new school, it’s not really a hating community, but at my old school, I had experiences with bullying. In my experience, a kid called me a terrorist. I think it was really because he was Puerto Rican and some kids called him mean names related to that—I think he took that out on me. When I told my teacher, she didn’t help me and just sat me out. I went to my Assistant Principal and she helped me. Most of the time, it’s hard to tell a teacher or a principal, but if you do, it’s the right decision because they can help you.
In my experience, if someone keeps saying “Terrorist, terrorist, terrorist” in your ear, you’re going to get annoyed and you’re not going to focus on your school work. I think teachers should get more involved in these situations. If they see two kids arguing and they are getting really upset, teachers should say something. For the most part, teachers don’t take it seriously. They just think, “Oh they’re just two little kids arguing.” A lot of times, teachers can’t believe that a kid would bully another kid, or they think because that didn’t happen in the place where they were growing up, that it can’t happen.
If students from these communities had more opportunities to share about their cultures, I think other kids would see that things aren’t just like how the media says. I think kids would see we are actually the same as them. We believe different things, but inside we’re all the same.
It’s important to step in and stop bullying, and it’s important to take claims of bullying seriously because it affects kids’ schoolwork and it might hurt the kid mentally. I see in some news headlines about how kids try to commit suicide because they’re being bullied in school. I don’t think that’s just the bully’s fault. I think parents and teachers need to step in. We need to tell kids it’s not okay to bully someone else just because they’re different.