Allysha Gusmardy is a bright 18 years old who has just finished her HSC in NSW and will be continuing on to university next year. She resides in the Inner-West of Sydney with her mother and father and sibilings, and is of Indonesian cultural decent. Allysha also adheres to the Islamic faith and wears her hijab like many of her friends. She went to school in Canterbury located in inner-west Sydney, NSW and always got on well with her peers while in high school. However, in Year 9 Allysha began to experience racial attacks from a fellow student at the high school she attended. Sadly, this is not an uncommon day-to-day occurrence with 1 in 5 students in Australian schools experiencing racism.
Allysha described in an interview of how she, even to this day, was perplexed as to why she was targeted by this one person’s racial attacks.
“I was so unsure of why she was so aggressive when it came to me. Was it because of my religion? But that couldn’t be it because all my friends were Muslim and while only few wore the hijab, she treated them with kindness and often complimented them.”
The perpetrator of the racism was a new student to the school who had been welcomed in to her group of friends and Allysha was in many classes with her. The girl became highly verbally aggressive towards Allysha and made her racial abuse clear. Allysha described what kind of abuse she was targeted with:
“She often called my hijab a tea towel and questioned why I wore it. She even called a Muslim boy from our neighbouring school a terrorists in front of my face, as though she were trying to elicit some sort of anger.”
During Ramadan, our P.E class engaged in a game of basketball. I and a few other Muslim girls asked the teacher if we could take a break seeing as we were fasting and that was when the new girl had mocked us. She pretended to whine, ‘Aw it’s Ramadan, I’m fasting. I’m soooo tired, I need a break Miss. I’m soo tired, guys I’m fasting’ and of course, some of the girls laughed, encouraging her.
She continued to mock Ramadan and fasting until finally I turned away. It was hard not to cry but seeing as no one stood up to her, or condemned her behaviour, it had left me in tears. A lot of my friends had confronted her and that was probably the only reason why she and I were then taken to the teacher in charge of Racism and Discrimination.”
Allysha felt that the teacher in charge of Racism and Discrimination had managed the situation appropriately when it was brought to her attention. As the student who had been committing the racial attacks on Allysha claimed “She’s not from here, she needs to go back to her country. I don’t like her kind” the Teacher responded with reminding her that she had immigrant parents also. Allysha used this opportunity to state to her attacker “I was born in this country. Why do I have to leave?” The student apparently saw the error in her remarks and halted her open discrimination against Allysha.
However, a side effect of this open halt was that the student perpetrating the racial attacks then chose to become more discreet. Allysha tells of how the student used social media and gossip to continue her negative discourse on Islam and herself.
We asked Allysha what her school was lacking that could have prevented such incidents occurring in the future. This is what she had to say:
Did you feel that your school responded properly to the reports of racism?
“Although the school responded well, I feel like there wasn’t actual any awareness about racism. I wanted there to be an announcement made at school for everyone to hear about.”
Do you think your schools are in need of to be able to prevent and intercede in a better manner to future incidents of racism?
“I feel like racism and discrimination should really be made clear. Everyone knows that racism and discrimination is wrong but there’s nothing that really solidifies it. The schools are always preaching about how they don’t tolerate it but it’s always seemed like a taboo.
Especially on racism, [it is needed] and would definitely reduce the incidents of racial attacks. Especially when they know where it sparked from. Although there will be [a] few ignorant people who will think the same backward thoughts, they would rarely act on the thoughts since the environment around them would be educated and racism would be seen as something serious rather than a petty ignorant thought/joke.”
Within a typical class size of 30 students were will be at least 6 students who have been targets of racial attacks at school. Most of these attack will come in the form of verbal abuse. This is not a healthy environment for any young person to be growing in. It is time to work together to eliminate stories like Allysha’s from our schools. It is time to embrace the concept of racism within our schools to be able to tackle it head on. Now is the time for education on understanding what racism is, how it affects people and what we can do to speak up against it to help eliminate future incidents. The youth are our future, so let’s build our future together starting in our schools.