Valley Sikh leaders and Fresno County educators at a public forum addressing the bullying of Sikh American students say they are willing to work together to resolve the problem.
"We can't do this lying down -- we need to do something for our children," said Ike Grewal, a Sikh community activist and speaker at the forum. "We want to offer assistant to teachers, such as sensitivity training. The root cause is not knowing."
Nearly 100 people attended the forum Thursday night in the Alice Peters Auditorium at Fresno State. The meeting was designed to raise awareness about the issue and to begin steps toward resolution through education.
According to a Sikh Coalition survey released March 13, many Sikh students living in Fresno County say they are bullied at school and educators do nothing about it when it is reported.
Independent researchers gathered the information at forums in Boston, Fresno, Indianapolis and Seattle in 2012 and 2013. Fresno had the second-highest percentage of students saying they had been bullied, 54.5%
The report also showed the Valley has the highest percentage -- 51% -- of Sikh students saying schools didn't take action after they reported bullying.
Simran Kaur, advocacy manager of the Sikh Coalition, said in a presentation at the forum that educators don't understand the Sikh culture and faith and "don't know how to handle" bullying.
Jim Yovino, Fresno County superintendent of schools, said he wants to work with Kaur to create a better understanding of Sikhs in schools.
"That 50% felt no action was being take -- that's troubling to me," Yovino said. "That is not acceptable. Bullying is something we won't tolerate. Tonight bridges a gap between schools and the Sikh community."
The forum drew teachers and administrators from Fresno, Clovis, Selma, Fowler and Madera school districts.
"The more information we can receive, it's going to be helpful," said Scott Steele, director of educational services with Clovis Unified.
Preet Grewal, a Fresno City College student and a Sikh, told those attending the forum that he felt physically and emotionally drained from being bullied at Fresno County schools.
"I'm 22, but my body feels like I'm 88," said Grewal, who wears a turban. "I've been bullied almost my entire life. After 9/11, it all went downhill. I've been beat up and called every name in the book."
Grewal said he became depressed and felt suicidal. However, he said, the situation has changed dramatically.
"I decided I would not let them make me feel worthless; I am who I am," said Grewal, who will transfer to Fresno State in the fall and study child psychology. "I am going to school and I want to impact lives. Education with the Sikh community is greatly important."
The reporter can be reached at email@example.com or (559) 441-6304.