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Sikhs at White House Conference on Bullying

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2011 | 01:11 pm


Photo Source: Gurwinder Singh

Gurwinder Singh, through the Sikh Coalition, was among 150 students, parents, activists and entrepreneurs invited by the White House to find solutions to prevent bullying in schools. He is standing in front of the White House with Duong Nghe Lyn, who also attended as a youth who had been bullied.

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Photo Source: Gurwinder Singh

Gurwinder Singh, 18, sitting in a White House room during a tour before the bullying conference.

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Photo Source: Gurwinder Singh

Kal Penn, an actor and a discussion moderator, with Gurwinder Singh at the White House.

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Photo Source: Gurwinder Singh

Gurwinder and his Mom, Sukhdeep Kaur, wait at a local restaurant before the White House conference on bullying on March 10.

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Growing up in New York City, Gurwinder Singh was a typical immigrant child of non-English-speaking parents. He did not have problems in school until he came into Sikhee and began growing his kesh and wearing a patkaa. Then his best friend turned on him.

At first he just ignored Gurwinder and denied that they ever were friends. But that soon turned into middle school violence with his friend leading a group of bullies, chasing him through the city to the subway, and bashing Gurwinder’s head into a metal pole. None of the bystanders helped him. They just watched as Gurwinder began bleeding profusely and nearly passed out.

Gurwinder never said anything to anyone in school for fear of another attack.

“I wanted to be able to reach out to people and ask for help,” he told SikhNN by phone. “But my parents did not speak English, they could not go to school to explain. There were no interpreters to help them explain.

“I always felt lonely and did not want to talk to anybody.”

Gurwinder’s story was one of many shared at the White House conference on bullying prevention on March 10. He was among 150 students, parents, teachers, non-profit leaders, advocates, and policymakers that came together to discuss how they could work together to make schools and communities safe for all students.

“If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not,” President Obama said in the opening remarks. “Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people. And it’s not something we have to accept. As parents and students, teachers and communities, we can take steps that will help prevent bullying and create a climate in our schools in which all of our children can feel safe.”

"As parents, this issue really hits home for us," First Lady Michelle Obama said. “It breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, on the playground, or even online.”

Every day, thousands of children, teens, and young adults around the country are bullied. According to a White House news release, estimates are that nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year - upwards of 13 million students. Students involved in bullying are more likely to have challenges in school, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to have health and mental health issues.

The White House launched during the conference. The Web site provides information from various government agencies on how children, teens, young adults, parents, educators and others in the community can prevent or stop bullying. It provides information on what bullying is, its risk factors, its warning signs and its effects. It also provides details on how to get help for those that have been victimized by bullying.

Months before the conference, the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights issued guidance to clarify issues of bullying and violation of federal education anti-discrimination laws. The guidance explains educators’ legal obligations to protect students from student-on-student racial and national origin harassment, sexual and gender-based harassment, and disability harassment.

It also provided technical assistance to governors and chief school officers in each state by outlining key components of comprehensive and effective state anti-bullying laws and policies.

But perhaps the greatest challenge in bullying prevention is to have schools collect and track data on bullying, to better understand the problem and to better focus on solutions.

The department’s Safe and Supportive Schools is one such incentives program that provides grants to states that measure school safety, including issues of bullying and harassment, by surveying students.

“We need to know what is working and why,” said Mandeep Singh Dhillon, founder of Togetherville, a social network for kids. “(We need to be) measuring the effectiveness…” During his brief presentation, he suggested better data collection on kids under 13, and that social network technology be used for bullying prevention.

Jasjit Singh, associate executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, also was invited to the conference. He could be seen in the background during the live broadcast.

Gurwinder Singh has graduated from high school and is studying at the State University of New York. The hard times are behind him, but he is more optimistic about the future of Sikh kids. His advice: “Be peaceful and brave. Don’t do anything wrong. And know we have lots of resources and organizations. Ask them for help.”



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