Voices in Education

Interrupting Islamophobia: An Urgent Task for Educators
A student has her hijab ripped off while students call her a “terrorist” at her New York City high school (Moore, 2016). Classmates ask a Sikh American high school student in Georgia if he has a bomb in his turban and then proceed to pummel him to the ground and break his nose, requiring multiple surgeries (Lee, 2015). A middle school teacher writes in her Muslim American student’s yearbook, “Thanks for not bombing anything while we were [on our 8th grade field trip]!” (Abdelkader, 2011). In all of these real instances, schools remained silent, and therefore complacent, failing to interrupt and address xenophobic bullying.

There is a direct line we can trace from geopolitical power relations and Islamophobic discourses that circulate at the macro-level (think: president-elect Donald Trump’s proposal for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States & a registration process for those already here) to the micro-level of school-based interactions such as those described above that paint anyone perceived to be Muslim (namely: any inhabitant of a brown-skinned body) as “foreign,” “enemy,” and “threat.” In our curricular intervention that seeks to interrupt the increasing occurrences of xenophobic bullying post-9/11 and, most recently, the spike in hate crimes after the 2016 election, we recognize the potential of the meso-level of schools and educators—despite many accounts of teacher indifference to or participation in such acts—in promoting understanding and respect for difference.

In 2012, our team came together after the massacre at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Sikh temple, that was rooted in Islamophobia (the shooter, a known white supremacist, believed he was killing Muslims). As educators and researchers of South Asian descent,1 we asked ourselves:
  • How can schools interrupt instances of xenophobia and hate that can spur such racist violence?
  • How can deeper understandings of complex and diverse community and individual histories help educators and students build empathy and act as allies? 
  • How do we build more inclusive schools and communities?
We spent many months working with community partners, culling insights from scholarship and our own experiences, and developing a one-hundred-page open-access curricular packet, titled In the Face of Xenophobia: Lessons to Address the Bullying of South Asian American Youth. Through this curriculum, we offer educators concrete resources, lessons, and tools for raising awareness about South Asian American history, xenophobia past and present, and insights for how to productively interrupt bullying and racism in and around schools.

In our new article in the Harvard Educational Review, we discuss our process of developing this curricular resource and invite readers to join in the conversation to understand the roots of xenophobic bullying and develop action to counter it. Schools and communities must work together to counter Islamophobia, bullying, and hate in all its manifestations. Indeed, the task before us is more urgent than ever.


Abdelkader, E. (2011, October 24) Islamophobia Bullying in Our Schools. The Huffington Post.  Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/engy-abdelkader/islamophobia-in- schools_b_1002293.html
Hoeffel, E.M., Rastogi, S., Kim, M.O., Shahid, H. (2012, March). The Asian Population: 2010;
2010 Census Briefs. Retrieved from
Lee, E. (2015, October 16) Sikh Family Takes On Racist Bullying After Teen Was Beaten And Sent  To The Hospital. ThinkProgress. Retrieved from https://thinkprogress.org/sikh-family- takes-on-racist-bullying-after-teen-was-beaten-and-sent-to-the-hospital- 8fd8586f7927#.v2mnbrfdh
Moore, K. (2015). Meet STOMP Out Bullying's Teen Ambassadors The "Stand UP" Generation:  Khoshnoor Paracha. Retrieved from  http://www.stompoutbullying.org/index.php/about/teen-ambassadors/khoshnoor- paracha/#bio
South Asian American Digital Archive (n.d.). South Asian American History. Retrieved from  https://www.saada.org/resources/introduction
South Asian Americans Leading Together. (2013). In the Face of Xenophobia: Lessons to  Address the Bullying of South Asian American Youth. Washington DC: Bajaj, M., Ghaffar- Kucher, A., & Desai, K. Retrieved from http://saalt.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/In- the-Face-of-Xenophobia.pdf

1South Asian Americans number more than 3.4 million (Hoeffel et al, 2012), hail from diverse countries (e.g., India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, among others), belong to many religious groups (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Zoroastrian, Jewish), and have had a presence in North America since the 1700s. In this curricular project, we focused specifically on South Asian Americans because we found a gap in materials to address bullying directed at this community and based on the community partnerships we had developed with organizations, such as SAALT, SAADA, and others. 

About the Author: Monisha Bajaj is associate professor of international and multicultural education at the University of San Francisco.

Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher is senior lecturer at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

Karishma Desai is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University.