Connecticut public school teachers, scholars, and students met at a town hall on March 6 to discuss the importance of Asian American and Pacific Islander (APPI) studies material in K-12 classrooms. This town hall is part of Connecticut's process for passing Proposed Bill No. 678 (SB 678) which would include AAPI studies in the Connecticut high school social studies curriculum. Connecticut Senators Derek Slap (5th District), Tony Hwang (28th District), Saud Anwar (3rd District), and Catherine A. Osten (19th District) introduced SB 678 in January 2021, and the bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Education on January 28, 2021.
The initiative to introduce SB 678 comes as hostility towards Asian Americans rose during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Anwar commented on the increased hostility towards the AAPI community, saying, "When I interact with the Asian American community in our state, there is fear and concern...We need to use education as the first tool to help people be inclusive and respectful." Senator Hwang echoed this sentiment when he told NBC Asian America, "My hope in this curriculum is not only to raise awareness but to educate and foster greater appreciation and tolerance...". Connecticut welcomes more than 10,000 international students from the Indo-Pacific annually and these students contribute more than $400 million to the state's economy. Furthermore, Connecticut's population includes nearly 200,000 people from the Indo-Pacific or of Asian American heritage. Fostering greater appreciation and respect for AAPI communities through education mandates will benefit both visitors and state residents.
This bipartisan bill is nearly identical to a bill mandating elective courses in African American and Latino studies in the public-school curriculum, which was signed into law in 2019. Connecticut was the first state to have mandated African American and Latino studies. Connecticut also has mandates on Native American and Holocaust studies. The state's mandate on Native American studies was made in 2021, while the mandate on Holocaust studies was legalized in 2018.
In addition to Connecticut, the states of Ohio, California, New York, and Florida are making similar efforts to mandate AAPI studies. Connecticut and these other states would join Illinois, the first state to require Asian American studies in public schools, and New Jersey. However, AAPI studies material may take a few years to enter the public curriculum. The aforementioned mandate for African American and Latino studies will only begin in the fall of 2022. Nonetheless, Connecticut's push to mandate AAPI studies is a step toward combating hostilities against AAPI communities and fostering awareness, tolerance, and safety in the state.
Mimi MacKilligan is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a first-year graduate student at the George Washington University studying International Affairs with a double concentration in International Security Studies and Asia.