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Catherine Shieh    

Nationally Recognized DEI & Anti-Bias, Anti-Racism Specialist

While at a crowded BART station in Oakland, California, educator Catherine Shieh was waiting for a train when a man approached her, asking for spare change.

When Shieh, who is Taiwanese American, told him she didn’t carry cash, the man swung his fist and knocked her over. Then he started punching her.

The incident happened on a Saturday. There were many witnesses nearby, but no one intervened or checked on Shieh. It wasn’t until a week later, when Shieh called the BART police, that she found out three strangers had called and reported the incident on her behalf. (The assailant had a history of assaulting Asian women and the elderly, the police later found out.)

Looking back, Shieh said that there was part of her that felt relief there had been witnesses, ready and willing to document what they had seen. Still, she wished they had come up to her directly when she was lying on the ground, curled up in a little ball and legitimately scared.

Today, Shieh teaches people to do exactly that in some increasingly popular bystander trainings she leads over Zoom. The 28-year-old is the anti-hate training coordinator at the nonprofit organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago. It’s a relatively new job; up until August, Shieh had been an ethnic studies high school teacher in Los Angeles for five years.

As COVID-19 spread and anti-Asian attacks surged across the country, the Chicago nonprofit tapped Shieh to spearhead its anti-hate education efforts with the public and with private organizations.

It’s a job that fuses many of Shieh’s passion points: politics and policy as well as teaching and facilitating learning in novel, creative ways. The classes ― which are attended by Asian Americans and others just looking to help ― are heavy on bystander training, but they also delve into race and the xenophobia and exclusionary laws that made Asians and Pacific Islanders the nation’s first “undocumented immigrants.”

For some attendees, this might be their first exposure to a history that’s all too often given short shrift in history classes. Shieh relishes the chance to dig into it.

As attacks continue, the demand for bystander training is growing

The classes, conveniently offered over Zoom for people across the country, are of course sorely needed right now. Since the beginning of the pandemic last March, there have been nearly 3,800 hate incidents reported against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, with many of the crimes occurring in the Bay Area and New York City, according to advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate. Because these numbers are self-reported and some victims may not speak English, community advocates say there are likely far more cases that haven’t been logged.

Speech Topics

  • American History (Asian American history, etc.)
  • International Baccalaureate History
  • Mastery Learning & Grading
  • Ethnic Studies, critical pedagogy
  • anti-racism in the classroom, schools, and school districts
  • Equitable Educational Practices
  • How to Talk to Kids about Race

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