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Local Educators And Leaders Call For AAPI Curriculum In Ohio Schools

 Pranav Jani, program director of Asian American Studies at Ohio State University.
Michael Lee
Pranav Jani, program director of Asian American Studies at Ohio State University.

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing a rise in anti-Asian racism and violence, activists and lawmakers across the nation have been pushing to establish Asian American and Pacific Islander curriculum in schools. Local educators and leaders spoke about why they think a push for an AAPI curriculum in Ohio schools and universities is needed, especially today.

When Molly Jasina took her first Asian American Studies class at Ohio State University, it was an eye-opening experience. She learned about the slew of Chinese Exclusion laws that spanned over 60 years, the internment of Japanese Americans, and the mistreatment of Filipinos at the 1904 World Fair — all topics she didn’t learn much about, if at all, in school growing up.

“It was really tough sometimes to read the material, as in like, ‘How could this have been left out,’ I got really frustrated at colonialism, but then also walking away with, ‘I really have this new knowledge, I can’t wait to share it,’” Jasina said.

Jasina is a part of Stop Hate OSU, a team of students that organized the university’s Stop Asian and Pacific Islander Hate rally after shootings at several spas in Atlanta, Georgia left six Asian women and two others dead.

Around that time, they brought a list of demands to the university — one being the creation of an Asian American Studies major.

“It would be a form of institutional support for students who wanted to major in it," she said. "Using money, resources, to support faculty in their research, to hire more tenure-track faculty.”

Jasina said her group has meetings scheduled with Ohio State administrators and they’ve seemed receptive and willing to hear them out. At Ohio State, it’s typically faculty members who start the process of creating a new major.

Pranav Jani is director of Ohio State’s Asian American Studies program, which only offers a minor. He’s never officially moved to create such a major, but he said having dedicated faculty would allow them to offer more tailored and consistent classes to students.

While he said it’s important to have AAPI education on a college level, Jani thinks requiring it for K-12 students would also be beneficial — especially with the rise in anti-Asian racism and violence during COVID-19.

He said it could help students challenge some political arguments, like China being an enemy of the U.S. Or it could just teach students about important AAPI figures in U.S. history.

“I think it would give us a certain knowledge of the world, and we know from all education that the earlier you start something that’s important, the deeper roots it’ll have," Jani said.

“It proves to be an obstacle to get the energy and get the impetus, and to get the support to make changes to be more ethnically aware and to be more inclusive at the school district level."
Sam Shim, member of Worthington Schools Board of Education

On Friday, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill that will require schools in the state to teach Asian American History. They are the first state to do so.

But here in Ohio, Sam Shim said pushing for an AAPI curriculum in K-12 schools is easier said than done. Shim is Korean American and is on the board of education for Worthington City Schools, which offers some elective classes on the histories of different marginalized groups in the U.S.

According to the Ohio School Board Association, almost 96 percent of the state’s 3,500 school board members are white, and less than 0.5 percent are Asian American.

Race Percent
Caucasian ..................................................95.81%
African American ......................................3.17%
Asian American .........................................0.44%
Latin American ..........................................0.38%
Other (Indian & Hawaiian) .........................0.19%

Source: Ohio School Board Association

Shim said having such a small percentage of Asian board members makes it hard to push for requiring AAPI history classes.

“It proves to be an obstacle to get the energy and get the impetus, and to get the support to make changes to be more ethnically aware and to be more inclusive at the school district level," he said.

The numbers at the state level are nearly just as small. Democratic State Senator Tina Maharath is the first Asian American woman ever elected to the Ohio Legislature. And Asian Americans still make up just two of the chamber’s 33 members. But she said it’s not all dire when it comes to presenting legislation like Illinois's.

“We can at firsthand experience demonstrate the history of our family of what we’ve been through to come to this country, and demonstrate that it’s a reality check for our past generations and future generations of what the U.S. and Asian relations used to be like, what it has been like, and what the future will look like," Maharath said.

Maharath said she plans to present legislation regarding adding AAPI history to schools in the fall. And she’s hopeful — about how it will help with discussions about AAPI hate, but also about the relationship AAPIs have with the country and Ohio.

“We can set this tone that we are welcomed here in Ohio, and this is the history that they’ve been going through before they even stepped foot in Ohio," she said.