Professor Mary Reid and Dr. Kien Nam Luu opened OISE’s Impacts of COVID-19 lecture series with a compelling talk on how the increase in expressions of anti-Asian racism have affected Asian educators in Canada.
Reid and Luu are well-positioned to take on this topic. Reid, a first generation Canadian of Hakka descent, is Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at OISE and co-leader of the research committee of the Asian Canadian Educators Network (ACENet). She studies students’ experiences of the ‘model minority myth’—the stereotype of Asians as quiet, and inherently good at math and science. An OISE alumnus, Luu is Superintendent of Education in the York Region District School Board and President of the Asian Canadian Educators Network. As an educator in a leadership role, he sets out to amplify voices of those who have been excluded.
Reid and Luu attested to the “pandemic of hate” many have experienced alongside the COVID-19 pandemic. “Around the world people saw images in the media of racialized people being kicked, spat on, murdered,” Mary Reid said. Asian communities have been scapegoated and subjected to rising incidents of violence.
In the spring of 2021, ACENet provided a forum for Asian educators and allies to gather and grieve after the deadly mass shooting of health spa workers in Atlanta. “This moment of solidarity and healing in the wake of this devastating hate-motivated crime was the impetus for our research,” Luu said.
Reid and Luu set out to capture the experiences of Asian Canadian educators during the pandemic. Funding for their research was provided by the 2021 Ontario Acting to Combat Anti-Asian Racism in Schools Initiative. “Participants felt the need to share experiences with racism,” Luu said, “but were more comfortable sharing with someone who understands their culture.” Nearly 40 educators completed a survey designed by Reid and Luu, and approximately half of survey respondents participated in semi-structured interviews.
Reid and Luu’s findings confirm that recent media reports trigger memories of childhood bullying as well as more recent microaggressions and experiences of discrimination, including in the workplace, where Asian colleagues are stereotyped as quiet, organized, and not inherent leaders. The recent proliferation of anti-Asian violence has heightened concern about personal safety. Many participants experienced increased emotional fragility at this time.
The recommendations from this study are clear: revise the curriculum to include achievements of Asian Canadians and recognize diverse Asian identities, increase the representation of Asian Canadians among school leadership, provide professional learning opportunities, and create and support affinity groups where Asian Canadian educators can experience belonging and community. “It’s crucial to build a network of support,” Reid said.
Reid and Luu’s work served as the first step in providing a safe space to reflect on shared experiences. “Lived realities as Asian educators are often invalidated,” Reid said. “Asian identities are viewed as adjacent to whiteness, and for this reason anti-Asian racism goes unacknowledged.” For many participants, this study was the first time their identities and experiences as Asian Canadians were affirmed in a professional setting.