Bullying, culture wars, a growing population and years of advocacy have prompted a total of 18 states and Washington, D.C., — 11 over just the past few years — to start teaching Sikhism in schools.

As a student in New Jersey in 2017, Gurjap Kaur Kohli, now 17, was proud to be a resident of the first state to include teaching about Sikhism in schools. Fast forward six years and she’s happy to see more schools adopting the curriculum. 

Now, a total of 18 states and Washington, D.C., have passed bills to teach Sikhism in K-12, with the district being the latest to join the growing list. New Jersey began the trend in 2009. Some of the reasons behind the education push include that Sikhs are a growing population in the U.S., bullying toward Sikh students is increasing — with turbans and beards making the group an easy target — and years of advocacy are paying off.

For students like Kohli, the mandate made her feel seen and helped ease the burden of fielding questions about her religion, the fifth largest worldwide. 

“A lot of people started to ask less questions since they felt more educated by learning these things in class,” said Kohli, who live in Monroe Township, a suburb in New Jersey about 45 miles southeast of New York City. “It’s really interesting to see people understand Sikhism more now. It’s nice that people ask less often, so I don’t have to keep re-explaining.”