COVID-19 is decimating our beautiful communities of color. Latinx communities, particularly in New York, are two times more likely to die than white New Yorkers. Black Americans make up one-third of those falling ill and dying, but only comprise 13% of the population. After New York and New Jersey, the Navajo Nation has the highest coronavirus infection rate in the U.S., a result of the health care inequities our Native American communities have faced for years.
And as with any pandemic, any crisis, fear is bringing out the worst in people. Our Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) brothers and sisters are a target, blamed for bringing to the U.S. COVID-19, or as some leaders ignorantly and destructively call it, the “Chinese virus.” According to the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, 1,500 acts of hate against AAPI across the country have been reported since early March, the majority of them against women. Cyberbullying against AAPI has increased by 900%.
In recent weeks, we have seen educator efforts take on AAPI hate at universities and high schools. Of course, disrupting bias is not just about changing individual behavior. It has to happen on a systems level to truly dismantle the inequities our biases create. At the NYC Leadership Academy, we guide education leaders through six equity leadership dispositions that we believe are essential for dismantling bias and inequities within and across systems. The first step is to reflect on our individual biases, where they come from and how those biases affect the way we lead and live. Leaders then must model anti-bias behavior for their staff and communities, to develop these skills in their team members and, ultimately, to create systems and structures that promote equity.
There is much work to be done within our education community. Research has shown that teachers often assume all AAPI students share similar experiences. Of course, we Latinx know all too well that being treated as one homogeneous culture can make us feel invisible and our unique heritage devalued. AAPI students also face stereotypes like the “forever foreigner” presumed to have poor language skills or the “model minority” assumed to be high-achieving, hardworking, quiet and non confrontational. These biases are a hit to students’ self-esteem, cause depression, and affect their academic and social lives. The “model minority” myth can lead teachers to assume AAPI students do not need academic, social, or emotional support.
These stereotypes and racial microaggressions affect AAPI teachers, too, leading to teacher turnover. It’s not surprising, then, that only two percent of teachers and 1.6% of principals in public elementary and secondary schools identify as Asian or Pacific Islander, compared to 6 percent of students. Each one of us must echarle ganas by speaking up and standing as co-conspirators. The AAPI community has been invisibly by our side many times before. One example close to my heart was in 1966 when Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez brought Filipino and Mexican farm workers together to join forces to picket the Delano growers. Out of this union the United Farm Workers was born. We didn’t do that alone.
May is AAPI Heritage Month and in honor of this, I am writing to call you to action, to embody one of the Latinos for Education values: Bridge across Cultures. As educators, we can and must disrupt hate. We are in a unique position to arm our students, our colleagues, and ourselves with the tools to see the fear and ignorance rooted in this discrimination and the destruction it creates, and to feel empowered to unequivocally call it out. Teaching Tolerance offers simple yet powerful guidance for disrupting hate encapsulated in four words: Interrupt, Question, Educate, Echo. We must show our young people the power that exists in calling out hate when we hear it, in asking someone to explain and justify their racist comments and jokes.
While fear can bring out the worst in people, tragedy can and must bring out our best. Juntos somos más poderosos que solos. Con Ganas We Can.
Nancy B. Gutiérrez, Ed.L.D.
President & CEO
Dr. Nancy B. Gutiérrez joined the NYC Leadership Academy in 2014 and was named President & CEO in July 2018. Nancy is a Fall 2019 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow and was named one of New York State’s 100 most powerful leaders in education by City & State NY in 2020. Nancy’s belief in education as a critical vehicle for equity and social justice has inspired her dedication to education. Growing up in a disenfranchised Latinx neighborhood in East San Jose, California, she witnessed first-hand the impact of limited resources and low expectations. Nancy began her career as a teacher and principal in her home community, where she was the founding principal of Renaissance Academy, the highest performing middle school in the district and a California Distinguished School. Achieving that success, she went on to lead an effort to turn around the district’s lowest performing middle school, located only two blocks from her childhood home. Nancy was named the UC Davis Rising Star and Association of California School Administrator’s Region 8 Middle School Principal of the Year in 2010. Since she joined the NYC Leadership Academy in August 2014, Nancy has led such accomplishments as launching the organization’s district leadership work, developing principal supervisor leadership standards and aligned curriculum and programming including the popular Foundations of Principal Supervision institute. Prior to working at the Leadership Academy, Nancy launched a program for executive leadership advancement for the New York City Department of Education that led to superintendent certification. Nancy is a graduate of the inaugural cohort of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program where during her tenure she served as a Teaching Fellow for Harvard’s School Leadership Program, a mentor for Harvard’s Latino Leadership Initiative, and co-chair for Harvard’s Alumni of Color Conference. Nancy served on the national board of the Coalition of Essential Schools for more than a decade. She is an adjunct instructor at NYU and is a frequent speaker and instructor for the Harvard Principals’ Center institutes for School Turnaround Leaders, Urban School Leaders, and Race, Equity, Access, and Leadership. Nancy is on the Latinos for Education (L4E) teaching team, a graduate of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) Aspiring Superintendents Academy, and is a member of Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) Board of Directors which aims to break through the polarizing divides that have consumed efforts to improve public education. Find Nancy on Twitter @nancybgutierrez or LinkedIn.