MAULIK HOSTS OUR 2017 UPSTANDER LEGACY CELEBRATION Get tickets now for the event on November 13 in New York City!
Thank you so much for hosting our 2017 Upstander Legacy Celebration on November 13th! Amidst your busy schedule, why was it important to you to make time to be our host?
The work Tyler Clementi Foundation is doing has become extremely important in the current climate. As a person of color and as a gay man, I’m well aware of the uptick we’re experiencing in bullying and hate crimes in seemingly all minority communities. The statistics are shocking and unacceptable. So, I’m grateful for the chance to lend a voice to supporting TCF.
Why is bullying prevention important to you?
Growing up, I often felt like I didn’t “fit in”. I was a scrawny, nerdy, brown kid with braces and glasses, and I was dealing with coming out. Literally no one at my school openly identified as LGBT, so that struggle felt very isolating. I know that young people (and adults, too) need to feel like they matter and that they belong.
I’ve been alarmed by hearing stories of the kinds of emotional and physical violence people who are bullied experience, as well as the long term damage bullying can cause. Supporters of TCF already know about the increased risk of suicide, depression, anxiety, addiction and low self-esteem that can last into adulthood. People are often bullied for perceived differences. I hope we can offer young people the chance to celebrate their diversity and support one another so that everyone can achieve their full potential.
Tyler’s story was so impactful for many LGBTQ+ people of all ages. How did his story impact you?
I was horrified and deeply saddened. It’s hard to imagine the kind of pain a person must be experiencing to end their life. But for anyone who thinks bullying is just part of growing up, or just kids messing around, I’d ask them to take a moment to imagine Tyler on that bridge and what it must have felt like for him. All the things he could have been are now lost forever. I’m so moved by the courage of the Clementi family for taking action to create dialogue between parents, teachers, and students about what we all need to be doing better.
Why do you feel it’s important for people to stand up and stand out when they see bullying?
I believe we’re all in this together. We need each other. A kind word, a physical intervention, someone to help with the process of reporting and offering support—these are invaluable. Victims of bullying often experience shame, fear, and confusion around how to get help. So, we all have a responsibility to do the right thing. We all flourish when the environments we’re in are safe for everyone.
During the Obama Administration, you were appointed by President Obama to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Please share about the importance of AAPI representation and how you are continuing that great work now.
As a Commissioner, I focused a great deal on young AAPIs and ways we could better meet their needs. We were hearing reports of AAPI youth being bullied, in some instances, at rates that were double the national average. They also had unique circumstances – being bullied not only for appearance, or identity or sexuality, but also for things like religion, the foods they brought to school, for immigration status, and language proficiency. Often their parents did not fully grasp the bullying they were experiencing, and in many cases they did not know how to get help or report incidences. So, we created an AAPI Anti-Bullying Task Force at the White House. We did 29 listening sessions around the country, and out of that we launched an anti-bullying campaign designed to address the needs of young AAPIs called #ActToChange.
We’ve moved #ActToChange outside of the White House now, and we are continuing to grow it. The campaign website, ActToChange.org, includes video and music empowerment playlists, and encourages you to “Take a Pledge” to join the #ActToChange movement and stand up against bullying. As one out of three AAPIs does not speak English fluently, resources are available in Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Punjabi, Urdu, and Vietnamese. The campaign encourages AAPI youth and adults to share their stories, engage in community dialogues, and take action against bullying. The work of #ActToChange seems more important now than ever, much like TCF’s work. In fact the Council on American-Islamic Relations has reported that there has been a 91% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes during the first half of 2017 alone.
How can we better include AAPI students and adults in bullying prevention?
It’s a good question. I think a big part of this is just making sure we’re included in the conversation, so I appreciate you asking! Asian Americans are often victims of the “Model Minority Myth”: this idea that we all do well in school, have good jobs, succeed financially, and so forth. And that’s just not the case. AAPIs are an extremely diverse group. We trace our heritage to more than 30 different countries, and our challenges are as diverse as the communities we come from. While the effects of bullying might manifest in similar ways, helping a turban wearing student who is being called a terrorist vs. a helping a student being bulled for identifying as LGBT require different tools. We have to be specific about the cultural dialogue we engage in around both of those.
You’ve been a large part of a number of shows for young people like Disney’s Phineas and Ferb and Nickelodeon’s Sanjay & Craig. How do these shows influence youth to embrace diversity?
I love voicing cartoons! It’s so fun and so imaginative. And knowing that kids are getting to see shows with diverse casts is hugely important. I remember being a kid and watching Saturday morning cartoons and never seeing characters that looked like me. That can make you feel like your experience isn’t valid, or that you have to be more like someone else to fit in. So to be able to send a different message to young people is really important to me. Sanjay is the first lead Indian-American character on a network cartoon. He has a Caucasian mom and an Indian dad, and he’s just a 12-year old kid who likes to do what a lot of 12-year old kids like to do: hang out with his pet snake Craig and go on ridiculous adventures. It means a lot to me that I get to create a character that all kids, including Indian-American kids, can relate to.
JOIN MAULIK AT OUR 2017 UPSTANDER LEGACY CELEBRATION ON NOVEMBER 13 Get your tickets now!
Maulik Pancholy is an American actor. He is best known for his roles as Jonathan on 30 Rock, the voice of Baljeet Tjinder in Phineas and Ferb, Sanjay Patel in Weeds, and Nickelodeon animated series Sanjay and Craig.
The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.