TRENTON – In an effort to bring greater awareness to contributions made by Asian Americans, and to better educate students about Asian American culture and thereby attempt to stem anti-Asian racism and violence in society, the Senate Education Committee advanced legislation sponsored by Senator Vin Gopal and Senator Loretta Weinberg to establish a Commission on Asian Heritage within the Department of Education.
Notwithstanding its allocation, the commission would be independent of any supervision or control by the department. The commission’s purpose would be to survey, design, encourage, and promote the implementation of Asian cultural and educational programs throughout the State.
“Though Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continue to make significant contributions to our state, too often they remain misunderstood and are targeted for race-based violence and bigotry,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “With this legislation and the accompanying AAPI curriculum in New Jersey schools, we can start to turn back anti-Asian racism and violence, and begin to better recognize the strengths that diversity continues to play in our education system and society.”
Representing over 10 percent of New Jersey’s population, Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in New Jersey. Yet according to recent data compiled by the New Jersey State Police, reports of harassment and discrimination directed toward the AAPI community continue to rise, with more than 1,400 bias incidents, the highest total ever, recorded in 2020.
“Anti-Asian racism and violence has continued to rise during the long months of the COVID-19 pandemic, due in no small part to reckless and unfounded rhetoric blaming the community for the spread of the virus,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “One place where we can begin to better educate our citizens about Asian American culture and history is in our classrooms, and that is where this legislation is focused.”
Since the rise in anti-Asian racist and violent incidents, lawmakers throughout the U.S. have been pushing to establish AAPI curriculums in schools to address the underlying causes of racial bias, which is, in part, due to a lack of education and understanding.
The new commission will be modeled after various commissions currently housed within or in but not of the Department of Education, including the Amistad Commission and Latino and Hispanic Heritage Commission. The commission created under the bill will also be responsible for providing sample lesson plans and curriculum guidance to school districts for the requirements under the pending S-4021, which adds Asian American and Pacific Islander history and culture to the Statewide Student Learning Standards.
This newest bill, S-3764, was passed out of committee by a vote of 6-0.