To fight the rising tide of hate in our country, we must stop bias-based bullying in the classroom
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In recent years, incidents of mass violence, stemming from hate based on religion, race, or other inherent factors, rightly occupy our media airwaves and important discussions by many lawmakers in the halls of power.

Yet one piece too often missing from this important national conversation is the earliest destructive, bias-driven behavior that eventually evolves into bigger acts of violence: bullying of and by youth in schools across the country. That’s why this month, I was thankful to be able to share my family’s story about bullying at a panel on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

To some, it may sound far-fetched to suggest that ugly behavior in classrooms can metastasize into more hateful acts. Unfortunately, I saw that harmful change firsthand watching my younger brother progress through school in Georgia. He, like myself and the rest of my family, is an observant Sikh. Although we’re members of the world’s fifth-largest religion, our articles of faith—like unshorn hair, beards, and turbans—are often singled out for being different.

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As a boy, my brother was teased for covering his long hair. Through the years, however, what began as verbal taunts turned into more severe bullying—and even physical assault. The crisis came to a head in middle school, when he was violently attacked. Classmates ripped off his turban, cut his hair, and broke his jaw, leaving him with multiple wounds across his face and upper body. Yet even after hospitalization and two surgeries following this awful attack, my brother was threatened further with “a blade” and “a 9mm” by one of his assailants.

All of this began with inaction and indifference from careless educators and administrators.

But my brother is resilient, and he’s done more than make a full recovery since. Thanks to his bravery in standing up and speaking out, he has actually improved the lives of his fellow students: Through advocacy and legal action, training programs have been implemented throughout his former school district to protect more than 100,000 students, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else that could lead to bullying and violence.

It shouldn’t take a brutal assault like my brother’s to make positive change. As I testified, members of Congress can take action now to make young people safer.

First, we must pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Introduced in May of last year by Reps. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) and John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoDemocrat Dana Balter to face Rep. John Katko in NY House rematch Hillicon Valley: Wells Fargo tells employees to delete TikTok from work phones | Google, Facebook join legal challenge to ICE foreign students rule | House Republican introduces bills to bolster federal cybersecurity House Republican introduces legislation to strengthen federal cybersecurity MORE (R-N.Y.), this bill would require updates that prohibit bias-based bullying in codes of conduct in elementary and secondary schools. It would also compel states to share data on bullying with the Department of Education, which would help identify systemic and ongoing problems like those that my brother faced.

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Another must-pass piece of legislation is the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. Named for a Rutgers University freshman who took his own life in 2010 after severe cyberbullying, the bill would mandate anti-harassment policies for colleges and universities and create new grants in the Department of Education for counseling and training programs. This bill was also introduced in May of last year—by Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 Steyer endorses Markey in Massachusetts Senate primary Celebrities fundraise for Markey ahead of Massachusetts Senate primary MORE (D-Wis.) in the House, and Sens. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayLong waits for test results spark new COVID-19 fears Overnight Health Care: White House goes public with attacks on Fauci | Newsom orders California to shut down indoor activities, all bar operations | Federal judges block abortion ban laws in Tennessee, Georgia Senate Democrats call for B for vaccine production, distribution in next package MORE (D-Wash.) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBiden strikes populist tone in blistering rebuke of Trump, Wall Street Biden campaign adds staff in three battleground states Clinton, Buttigieg among Democrats set to hold virtual events for Biden MORE (D-Wis.) in the Senate.

The time to take these actions is now. We don’t need to wait for another story, whether it ends in tragedy or perseverance, to protect our children. And we certainly don’t need to wait for another bias-motivated act of mass violence to fight the rising tide of hate in our country—particularly if it started with behavior that could’ve been stopped long before in our nation’s public schools.

Aasees Kaur serves as the Legal Client and Community Services Manager for the Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States. Kaur and her husband have been serving the interfaith and Sikh communities together for over a decade.