In August 2021, four UNC students founded Visibility Forward, an organization that aims to promote peace and combat violence against the Asian American community through history education.
Co-founder Michael Zhang, a sophomore studying public policy, said he wants to make it clear why the organization believes education is key in combating anti-Asian hate.
“The gap in visibility that exists currently in curriculums is part of the reason that allows stereotypes to proliferate,” he said.
Visibility Forward aims to use education as an avenue to promote a society where Asian American history is recognized as American history.
Visibility Forward has developed a myriad of resources for students and teachers including lesson plans, classroom kits and reading lists.
Co-founder Aimee Yan, a junior majoring in public policy, said that the initial idea for Visibility Forward came about after the March 2021 Atlanta spa shootings that left six Asian women dead.
“That was the tipping point where I knew I had to do something to combat anti-Asian violence,” Yan said.
Sarah Zhang, a sophomore majoring in computer science and political science, is the project’s organizer. She said that, due to the content of the lesson plans, they are more targeted to high school students.
“Some of the things we’re talking about are relatively mature, and kind of require some more nuance in the conversation, so we’re really focused more on like high school levels,” Sarah Zhang said.
Visibility Forward produces classroom kits that they plan to distribute to more than 50 educators with supplies for approximately 100 students in each one, impacting more than 5000 students.
Classroom kits include reading materials, posters, stickers, merchandise and a gift card for educators to use for additional supplies.
The group developed five lesson plans that will be piloted in three schools: Raleigh Charter and Enloe Magnet High Schools in North Carolina, as well as Standley Lake High School in Colorado.
Visibility Forward's leaders are excited about getting feedback about how their lesson plans work in practice, Michael Zhang said. The lessons outline learning objectives, relevant standards, goals, vocabulary and discussion plans.
Zhang said that he hopes Visibility Forward can help the next generation to be equipped with the tools they need to envision a more inclusive future.
“We understand ourselves how important it is to see our own identity reflected in the material we learn,” he said.
Co-founder Pratyush Seshadri, a sophomore majoring in math and economics, said that their primary goal is to highlight the role that Asian Americans have played in both North Carolina history and American history overall.
“We’re doing this mainly through illuminating and providing greater access to a lot of stories about Asian Americans in our state and country that most people don’t know about,” Seshadri said.
The organization has also received funding from the Robert E. Bryan Fellowship and Projects for Peace.
The Bryan Fellowship is part of the APPLES Service-Learning program. Up to six teams can get up to $1500 the first year and reapply a second year for $1000 in funding.
Projects for Peace is hosted by Middlebury College, and over 100 student leaders can win. They partner with more than 100 universities, including UNC. Here, the selection process for Projects for Peace recipients is managed by the Carolina Center for Public Service.
Visibility Forward received the Projects for Peace award in 2022.
“Pretty much all of the money and funding that we’ve received has gone directly towards educational materials and content development,” Seshadri said.
They are in the process of finalizing the shipment of materials from the Projects for Peace Grant, Seshadri said.
“With the Projects for Peace grant we were on a timeline this summer to assemble all the kits and get all the materials and ship them out,” Seshadri said.
Visibility Forward works with other organizations, providing links to outside resources on AAPI history.
“Our goal is really just to inform as many teachers of our project as we can and make sure that classrooms have these lesson plans to kind of guide conversations on AAPI history,” Sarah Zhang said.
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