Friday, May 28, 1999

Star-Bulletin, Hawaii News 8 Poll

Racism in
schools seen as
a problem

A poll finds two out of
three isle residents believe
there are problems

Resolution hails Asian Americans

By Susan Kreifels


When second-grader West Poindexter arrived at Waiau Elementary, kids made fun of the only black-skinned student at their school.

West went to the counselor in tears. With help from his teacher, he soon made his first friend.

"Any time you have a problem here, you can talk to somebody," said West, now a sixth-grader. "If you can't talk, it keeps building up and then one day it can explode."

Educators, parents and students say there's something special about Waiau, where an emphasis on respect has turned troubled kids around. In fact, the school received a $33,700 grant through the Violence Prevention Consortium to figure out what that special thing is, then share it with other Hawaii schools.


The latest Honolulu Star-Bulletin/NBC Hawaii News8 poll indicates schools should pay attention.

Two-thirds of the isle residents surveyed said racism and ethnic stereotyping in schools are a problem, and 39 percent said they know a student who has suffered discrimination.

In Hawaii generally, almost half believe racism and ethnic stereotyping are problems.

Reuben Escuadro, a retired oil refinery worker from Waianae, says racism has always been a problem in Hawaii, but "local people are more subtle about it."

Escuadro, a Filipino, saw most problems on the job, where black and white co-workers told him about the discrimination they felt. "Local people don't like haoles," he says, and there's much joking about Samoans and Hawaiians being lazy. "It's hard to get rid of that."

Washington-based Brad Coker, who has conducted surveys here for a decade, was not surprised that more people singled out schools over society at large as having discrimination problems. That could be due, he said, to high-profile lawsuits filed in recent years by African-American students.

"Schools probably mirror what problems exist in society," Coker said. "The problems don't incubate in schools; they come from outside."

Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said DOE is trying to eliminate intolerance of all types, including sexual. The schools recently hired Linda Wheeler, former sex equity specialist in the Civil Rights Compliance Office, to focus on tolerance issues and staff training. The Board of Education also strengthened its discrimination policy.

"We want to make our schools places where all students can feel comfortable and have a safe learning environment," Knudsen said.

Mary Purdy of Kailua, one of the isle residents polled, says nobody in her Hawaiian-Caucasian family has felt discrimination, while James Godbold, a semi-retired Caucasian accountant born on the Big Island, believes newcomers to the state have more problems. But he said nothing here compares with problems on the mainland.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Shaun Molina, left, and West Poindexter are friends at Waiau.

"Hawaii is built like no other society," Godbold said. "People raised here see fewer differences, or maybe we're just used to it."

The ethnic and racial breakdown of those surveyed matched the demographics of registered voters in the state: Caucasians, 29 percent; Japanese, 26 percent, Hawaiians, 14 percent; Filipinos, 12 percent; and mixed and others, 19 percent.

More whites than any other group felt there were problems -- three out of four said they existed in schools, and 59 percent in society generally.

A little over half of the Japanese believed there were problems in schools and society.

Hawaiians said schools were more troubled than society at large: 59 percent compared with 43 percent. And while almost two-thirds of the Filipinos believe problems exist in schools, only one-fifth saw them in the community.

Coker's interpretation of those breakdowns: Even though whites represent the largest group here, they may feel like the smallest minority because of the many Asians and Pacific islanders. "They may have economic power, but politically they tend to be more Republican, a political minority," Coker said.

Michael D'Andrea, an education professor at the University of Hawaii and board member of the Violence Prevention Consortium, believes white attitudes here reflect what academics see as growing white attitudes on the mainland -- feelings that they're threatened and losing control in the face of more Asian and Hispanic immigrants.

As for the small percentage of Filipinos who saw problems generally in the island, Coker cautioned that those results, as well as Hawaiians, could be off as much as 13 percent because fewer were polled. The race and ethnicity of survey participants reflected the state's population.

Having a Filipino governor also may have swayed Filipino attitudes, Coker said.

D'Andrea stressed that having a multicultural community does not guarantee a tolerant one. And he cautioned that people should not assume that problems here will never match those on the mainland.

A decade of bad economy, growing homelessness, increased school suspensions based on violence and insubordination, and increased violence in schools, according to D'Andrea, are bad signs. Because schools provide fertile ground for conflict, a curriculum based on tolerance and diversity becomes more urgent.

"Do we want to take a chance this (mainland school shootings) may not happen here when kids are arrested for guns at Campbell and a shooting at Farrington?" he asked. "We have to work deliberately to prevent the violence of the mainland."

Because Hawaii more reflects the future demographics of the mainland, D'Andrea believes the state has an opportunity to become the model for such a curriculum. "There is something happening in Hawaii -- a willingness to grapple openly with issues of violence and racism," he said. "This is a good opportunity for change."

D'Andrea has worked with 10 schools around the state. Those include Waiau in Pearl City and Kohala Elementary on the Big Island, which also received a grant through the Violence Prevention Consortium, a nonprofit organization of 157 representatives from schools, government agencies and the community. Both schools have demonstrated their commitment to prevent violence and promote respect for individuals.

Dennis Nishihara, Waiau counselor, said students with a history of discipline problems have come to the school but change in a few months. "We started to question teachers, 'How come?' What are we doing that makes this magic happen?"

Waiau's formula is similar to recent recommendations to the U.S. Congress from students who survived shooting sprees at their mainland schools: smaller schools, more communication with students, get everybody involved.

Waiau has 670 students compared with more than 1,000 elsewhere. The school is committed to teaching respect, peaceful intervention and good citizenship. And Nishihara said no problem is too small: if kids bring it up, faculty listens.

Parent Alva Molina said it's parent involvement, too. She regularly brings her cereal to the school cafeteria and eats with sixth-grade son Shaun. That way she knows his friends.

Other schools post "No Parents" signs at their cafeterias, she said.

West's mother, Gwen Poindexter, says it's simply about caring. "You have to live it, breathe it," she says. "You can't fake it."

Congress moves to
prevent bias against
Asian Americans

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress, including some from Hawaii, are warning that the explosive revelations of decades of Chinese espionage could lead to discrimination against Asian Americans.

Their concern has prompted a House resolution recognizing the contributions of Asian Americans and condemning discrimination.

The resolution was introduced Thursday by Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., who is Chinese American, the two House members who issued the espionage report and by Hawaii's two House members, Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Honolulu, and Rep. Patsy Mink, D-rural Oahu/neighbor islands.

"The issues raised by the Cox Report must not become a pretext for discriminatory actions against Asian Americans," said Abercrombie.

"The predilection to distort allegations of individual misconduct into blanket condemnations of Asian Americans generally is alive and well," he said.

Mink said Asian Americans in the nation's top security jobs are "expressing extreme discomfort in the way they are being treated" because of the Chinese spying case.

She said that since the uproar last year over illegal Chinese campaign contributions, her office has received harassing telephone calls when she speaks on the House floor.

Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., chairman of the committee that issued the report and a co-sponsor of Wu's resolution, warned: "It is just as anti-American to be racist as it is to commit espionage."

Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., House minority whip, said his office has received an unusual number of anti-Asian telephone calls recently.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, the only Chinese American in the Senate, received harassing phone calls and messages last year during the campaign contributions investigation, and more than once spoke out publicly against Asian-American discrimination.

Although anti-Asian-American sentiment has not reached the level it did during the campaign finance scandal, said Akaka spokesman Paul Cardus, "There's a reason to be vigilant based on what happened then."

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin