Bullying and Spirit Day

My note: When I wrote this paper last year for my Composition class there was a string of LGBT suicides that were all over the media. Bullying does not just affect LGBT kids though. This is an all teenager/young person issue to deal with.

It is the social responsibility of everyone in a community to combat bullying in high school. Bullying has become a widespread epidemic in high schools across the United States. Bullying no longer consists of just taking a kids milk money or giving them swirlies in the bathroom. Now children are being targeted by fellow classmates and tormented daily. With the advancement of technology, bullying has reached into the digital world through social media and blogs. That is called cyber bullying. They are being attacked to the point that some of these poor victims only find suicide as a way to escape the torment. Children are our most precious commodity and it is our responsibility as adults to step in and find a permanent resolution to end bullying in high school by mentoring or being role models.

In the last two years the United States has seen a string of suicides caused by bullying. Most of these children were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT) or perceived to be LGBT and that was the reason for their ridicule. Cyber bullying has played a large part of the tragedies that have occurred over the past two years. Cyber bullying is the attack of a person and their character over the internet. Most outlets of cyber bullying consists of email, instant messaging, social media like Facebook or Twitter, and blogging (Levy). Cyber bullying is considered to possibly be worse than physical bullying. Bullies do not actually see the victim or the effect of their words, so they have a lot less sympathy for the victim (Levy). A lack of sympathy can lead to more cruel comments toward the victim. Those kind of cruel words, especially on the internet, are devastating to a victim. Not only can they read it, but now it is out there for their fellow classmates to read as well. This was the case for Tyler Clementi, and LGBT youth. He was a young man whose roommate videotaped him having relations with another man and then tweeted about it on Twitter. Clementi was so embarrassed and upset that he was targeted like that and ended his own life by jumping off a bridge. That kind of public embarrassment or ridicule via cyber bullying clearly has damaging effects on a victim.

Some studies show that bullying is associated with depression (Gould, Klomek, Sourander). Children who are suffering from depression, normally due to a bad home life or chemical imbalance, take their depression out on people smaller or weaker than them as a means to feel good about themselves. This is how a bully is created. The effects of bullying are broken down by genders (Gould, Klomek, Sourander). Girls who bully others are at a higher risk of depression or committing suicide, even if the bullying is not as frequent. Boys show an association to depression or suicide when they are frequently bullying someone (Gould, Klomek, Sourander). The psychological effects of the victims differ a little from the bullies. Girls are more likely to have depression or suicidal thoughts no matter what the frequency of bullying is. Boys are at a higher risk of depression and suicidal thoughts when the bullying is frequent (Gould, Klomek, Sourander). Cyber bullying also affects victims in a different way (Hymel, et al). Girls and boys who are bullied over the internet, frequently or infrequently, lead to a higher risk of suicide and depression (Gould, Klomek, Sourander). As stated earlier, due to the public forum of cyber bullying, it is harder for victims to cope with being openly picked on. So bullying is no longer just a high school rite of passage anymore. It is a life or death situation and needs to be addressed.

I have personal experience of being bullied in high school. When I was a teenager in high school I came out of the closet to all of my peers. For the most part I was met with positive reception from many of my classmates. There were a few students however who were not as welcoming. They made sure to let me know daily how they felt about me and my sexual orientation. I was called derogatory names by them and a couple physically laid their hands on me to fight me or beat me up. I had to skip classes to just avoid seeing these kids because the school did not really help me. They didn’t have any physical proof of anything that was happening. I completely understand the feelings and emotions that go along with being bullied. I am fortunate that I had friends who accepted me. However, there were times that I felt so alone and like such an outcast. At 17 years old I couldn’t understand why people were treating me so horribly. I never did anything to them. It wasn’t just the students that gave me problems either. A teacher told me what his views of homosexuality were and how he did not agree with it. That was devastating to me because I thought I would at least have the support of the teachers. That was hard enough dealing with that. Then I was then called into the principal’s office and expelled from school because I was “causing a distraction to other student’s learning.” I went through a depression stage that lasted for a couple years. The experience has stayed with me all these years and I now try to be a voice for bullied LGBT teens that are facing what I went through. However, students today have it a lot harder than I did. We did not have social media or cyber bullying like we do today. No child should ever have to feel like they do not belong and no one as the right to bully anyone. Bullying is a topic that needs to be addressed as much as possible.

One of the biggest venues addressing bullying today is social media. Websites like Facebook and YouTube have taken steps to fight bullying everywhere. Many of those websites’ users are high school kids and that is where most of the cyber bullying takes place. Many high school kids have smartphones which makes social media readily accessible to them at all times of the day or night. Facebook has implemented security tools on their desktop site, mobile site, and smartphone application to stop users from bullying one another (“Facebook testing”). If a Facebook user posts a picture making fun of another user, the victim can report the photo to Facebook as “This photo is harassing or bullying me” (Levy). According to Levy, about 70 percent of bullying pictures were taken down by users themselves since the security tools were implemented. YouTube has also broadcasted their message to their users stating that they take the safety of their users as a top priority (Levy). They also host and promote a series of videos called “It Gets Better.” It is run by the Trevor Project and is a main leader in the fight against bullying. Users can upload videos of themselves discussing being bullied in high school and letting kids being bullied now that it really does get better. Television giant MTV also launched an online campaign of short videos teaching viewers the difference between a harmless joke and a cruel joke that could hurt someone (Levy). The social media business is taking bullying very seriously and has taken the initiative to educate the public about bullying as well as fighting it.

Bullying has become such a crisis that it has become a legal issue as well. Schools are now finding themselves in the courtroom in litigation to be held accountable for failing to recognize and prevent bullying. “The U.S. Supreme Court in Aurelia Davis VS Monroe County Board of Education holds that a school is liable for damages if it fails to respond to known acts of harassment by one student against another creating an environment in which the victim is denied equal access to an education” (Banham). Many states are now implementing anti-bullying legislature to not only stop bullying, but to also prevent legal action against the schools. Bully and cyber bullying can actually be very costly liabilities to the schools. According to Banham, school liability is expected to increase due to the media attention around the bullying caused suicides. The more bullying is allowed to continue the more costly it will be to the school and more importantly the students. The problem that schools have is distinguishing bullying from the protected freedom of speech (Banham). If a school member infringes of a student’s freedom of speech, then they are looking at another liability. This is a very tricky area to try and regulate. However, it is worth the time and effort to legally stop bullying in schools. If we do nothing we are going to lose more brilliant minds to hate.

The fight against bullying also faces many problems and hurdles. The government, more specifically politicians, is also a large part to blame of the intolerance flowing through the school systems. Members of the Tea Party like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have been campaigning for the 2012 Presidential campaign. Part of their campaign has been to attack the civil rights of LGBT people in America. They have been campaigning with hate speeches aimed directly at the LGBT. They feel LGBT people do not deserve the right to marriage and that they are not equal to their heterosexual counterparts. It is no surprise then that students are hearing and seeing the adult type of bullying towards LGBT people on national TV and only thinks it is natural to act that way in school. Also, just recently, the state of Michigan passed an anti-bullying law. However, at the last minute Republicans added verbiage stating that any person, student, teacher, principal, or staff, could voice their opinions toward other students if was based on a pure religious belief or strong moral conviction. In essence, the new bill now makes it legal to discriminate against someone based on our own beliefs. That is the definition of bullying. Now anyone in a school setting in Michigan has the right to say what they wish and use the new law passed as protection. Too many right wing activists are pushing their religious beliefs into our law and not thinking about the consequences.

Parents are also to blame for the lack of control and education they give their children regarding how to treat their peers (Levy). There are parents who agree with the points of view of the public personalities they see on the nightly news. Some are also devout in a faith that disagrees with things like homosexuality. Either way, because they believe in what is being said, they allow their child to believe in that as well. So to some bullies they believe they are doing the right thing by attacking someone else who might be different than them. With no one really telling them no at home, it’s hard for them to think they are doing anything wrong. They are absolutely doing something wrong. Parents need to be more involved in their children’s lives and help them learn about how to treat and accept people different from them.

The first step to resolving this growing problem of bullying is education. Educators need to be educated and trained on how to diffuse and prevent it from happening. For that to happen, there needs to be a written code of conduct in every school regarding bullying (Banham). With that in place teachers and other school staff will know what they can do as their part to stop bullying. The schools need to assess cyber bullying and how it plays a part in student to student bullying (Levy). They need to hold staff parent training seminars regularly. They should also learn how to talk and listen to students who are being bullied. They need to recognize the signs of a troubled student. Most troubled teens will express themselves. Sometimes people just don’t listen. Because cyber bullying is relatively new and has no legal precedent, it is an unknown area (Banham). Teachers should take time out of class to teach students proper behavior on the internet, known as “netiquette” (Levy). Because bullying happens among the peers and out of the educator’s sight, the key to stopping it from happening is by empowering the students (Banham). As a child I remember being told the only way to stop a bully is to stand up to them. Arming students with the knowledge on how to handle a bullying situation and how to speak to a bully in a non-threatening manner is important (Banham). They should be taught to not respond to a bully’s actions since reaction is what bullies respond to. Bullies are normally attention starved and as such seek for it reaction of embarrassing other students in front of students. When they do not get the reaction they are searching for they will stop. Another key to the resolution is empowering the entire community. Cities and towns should make it clear that bullying is not accepted in their schools and will take action against those that decide to bully. Awareness of bullying is what has started the fight against bullying, and that coupled with education is it what will eventually stop it.

The White House is also aware of the dire situation that is happening in America today. In March 2010 they launched their own anti-bullying campaign (Levy). They released stopbullying.org to help parents, students, and educators learn how to recognize and deal with all types of bullying. The White House also made sure to bring to this matter to national attention by holding the White House Conference of Bullying Prevention. When the government is stepping in to address the situation that is a sign that there is something wrong and this is being taken seriously. President Obama even made his own “It Gets Better” for the bullied victims having to live with that torment every day. This is what victims need to hear. The leader of the nation is reaching out and reassuring them that it does get better and that suicide is not the way. Too many brilliant minds are being lost because of hate and intolerance and the government is doing the right thing stepping in to help.

Just recently Mayor Daniels of Troy, Michigan was confronted about anti-gay slur she used on her Facebook. She is now being called a bully. A high school student who formed the Gay Straight Alliance at Troy High School planned a protest. Members of all ages from the Troy community, and residents in surrounding cities came with signs and confronted the Mayor and let her know that her bullying and behavior was unacceptable and she was no longer welcome in office. The council members agreed with us that her behavior was unacceptable. That is what we need to do city to city. Community members need to ban together and say no to bullying. Bullies need to know their behavior is not welcome. I think that was a great example for all the youth in Troy.

To commemorate those students who took their lives, and to spread awareness about bullying, a special day has been dedicated to them. October 20 (this year 19) is now known as Spirit Day. It is a day where supporters to end bullying, and family and friends of the victims, wear purple clothes or a purple ribbon in remembrance. Purple is the color that represents the fight against bullying, much like the pink ribbon does for the fight against breast cancer. Many Facebook and Twitter users change their main profile pictures to show their support. It is the hope of the anti-bullying supporters to continue celebrating Spirit Day every year while educating high school students and adults about bullying. Through education and awareness will we be able to end bullying and prevent a tragic suicide of another child.

We as a community need to stand up to bullying so we might be able to put an end to it. With today’s youth is being so impressionable is up to us to give them the tools to live in this diverse world and accept people for who they are. It is our responsibility as educators, parents, and role models to teach them what is right and wrong. The community as a whole has to step up and take responsibility for the younger generation. A young person being responsible for another classmate committing suicide is something no one should ever have to live with. As a community we do have the power to prevent that type of tragedy from happening again.

Works Cited

“Facebook Testing AntiBullying Tool Password Reset on Mobile Devices 687030.” eWeek 9

Aug. 2011. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 Nov. 2011

Banham, Russ. “BATTLING BACK AT BULLYING; Training Programs For Students, Teacher

Key To Loss Prevention.” Business Insurance 6 June 2011: 0011. Academic OneFile.

Web. 16 Nov. 2011.

“Facebook, GLAAD Partner To Prevent Anti-Gay Bullying.” PC Magazine Online 14 Oct. 2010.

Academic OneFile. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.

Hymel, Shelley, et al. “The Changing Face Of Bullying: An Empirical Comparison

Between Traditional And Internet Bullying And Victimization.” Computers in

Human Behavior 28.1 (2012): 226+ Academic OneFile. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.

Levy, Peter. “Confronting Cyberbullying: Experts Say That Schools Need To Stop Worrying

About Externel Internet Predators And Take On The Threat Within: Cyberbullying.” T H

E Journal [Technological Horizons In Education] May 2011: 25+. Academic OneFile.

Web. 16 Nov. 2011.

Gould, Madelyn S., Anat Brunestein Klomek, and Andre Sourander. “Bullying And Suicide:

Detection And Intervention.” Psychiatric Times Feb 2011: 27. Academic OneFile. Web.

16 Nov. 2011

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