When I was only an infant, my family and I were sent to Camp Amache -- a WWII internment camp in Colorado that illegally incarcerated people of Japanese ancestry during a time of racism and war hysteria. While my memories of internment camp are limited, I vividly remember the discrimination I faced as a child growing up after the war. Parents of my classmates urged their kids to attack me on the school playground because I was Japanese. I was "the enemy."
"Anti-Bullying Month" is an opportune time to assess where our country is with bullying, and what we need to do to reduce and eliminate it. While we have made progress, we still have a long way to go. Everyone must pitch in to make this happen.
Today in the United States, we rightly pride ourselves for our tolerance and diversity. Yet there is still a minority that not only refuses to accommodate others who look, think, and act differently than they do, but also makes the deplorable decision to act upon their prejudice. Bullies are still among us.
In the wake of the attacks on 9/11, I witnessed the Sikh American and Muslim American communities experience unfounded discrimination and bullying from their fellow Americans. Children were attacked at school, men and women were harassed and assaulted in the streets, and some men wearing turbans were killed. Unwilling to allow another dark chapter to write itself into our history, I immediately authored and sponsored resolutions, legislation, and letters to prevent our country from devolving into fear and hysteria. The Japanese Americans during WWII did not have a voice or representation to stop the atrocities from happening. It was my duty to stand up, and be that voice.
Yet the problem persists. Bullying knows no boundaries -- it reaches from national headlines to school lunch lines. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 3 students report that they have been bullied in school. The already grave situation worsens for LGBT youth: 9 out of 10 are verbally bullied because of their sexual orientation, and many are also physically bullied.
Bullying creates an environment of fear that degrades its victims and inhibits their development. Bullied students perform worse in school, because they cannot focus on their teachers' words while worried about how their classmates will treat them after class. Bullying prevents social cohesion and bonding at an age when those factors are critical to further maturation. Most dangerously, bullying and harassment can create serious mental health concerns that create a feedback loop of alienation that can result in severe depression and suicide.
Not just students are affected. Bullying can take all forms, including discrimination against the elderly or various ethnicities. It creates fissures within our communities that prevent the realization of our collective potential.
This is unacceptable.
As outlined in the Safe Schools Improvement Act, introduced by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (of which I am a cosponsor), school administrators must create policies that outline explicit punishments for bullying to affirm that bullying is intolerable.
But the sole burden cannot solely be on educators. It is up to all of us to create an environment that condemns bullying and supports those who are targeted.
Technology and social media have been exploited by bullies to harass victims outside of schools. These same tools have the potential to help reduce bullying.
Social media can invigorate the anti-bullying campaign, expanding awareness of the issue and uniting advocates. Technology has practical applications as well. In my district, four students from Cupertino High School designed an app, as part of the inaugural House App Competition, that allows bystanders to report bullying events through their phones quickly and alert administrators and parents through a hotline both on and off campus. This innovative use of technology helps students stand up to bullying, and be the voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves. It is the responsibility of policymakers to support the use of technology to prevent harassment and bullying around the country.
For advocates and allies of those victimized, it is up to us to continue our action and ensure that Anti-Bullying Month is the start of a movement to eradicate this epidemic in our schools, communities, and country. As the founder of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, I refuse to be a bystander. I encourage you to do the same. Let us, all of us, support victims of bullying and loudly refuse to live under the tyranny of harassment in all its forms.