column: Bullying: a personal account of adolescent intolerance and a call to participate in Day of Unity Oct. 12
From Lady Gaga to Phoebe Prince, the issue of adolescent bullying has surfaced recently as the darling of the news media. Even though bullying is not a new issue, I’m relieved that it is finally becoming the epicenter of critical commentary from a plethora of viewpoints. The sad part is, one of the most potent catalysts for all this attention is the number of suicides linked in part to bullying.
As a high school senior saddled with college applications and undoable physics homework, I found myself yearning to write an opinion piece on bullying as I understand it and as some of my peers see it, despite knowing that I will probably have to starve two to three hours off of the already anorexic ewe to be sacrificed at the altar known as my sleep schedule.
Bullying is a plague that strikes close to my heart. In middle school, I was "blessed" with both the experience of being implicitly bullied and the silent pain of being a witness to bullying.
I came from a relatively small elementary school and knew few people in my middle school. I came in sporting a mouthful of braces, scrappy hair exposing my oversized forehead, and a wardrobe composed of hand-me-downs and relics from the Children’s Place. I was characteristically introverted, and my skin tone was uncompromisingly Asian. It’s safe to assume I didn’t have any close friends.
Even though I struck up a few laughs with some classmates, I never felt fully accepted into anyone’s world. At lunchtime, I would take my greasy tater tots into a bathroom stall and sit to eat with the toilet seat turned down. Gradually, I started carting my lunch into my advisory teacher’s room after she left for the teacher’s lounge, hoping she’d notice me and release me from my pain.
One day, my teacher was just coming out of her classroom as I approached her doorway. She breezed right past me, coffee mug in hand. She barely glanced at me.
The same thing happened with everyone else. When the kids who finished lunch and recess early trickled into the classroom, they pretended I hadn’t been there already. The loneliness I had felt then was hushed up in unspoken euphemisms and excuses.
For someone who has never experienced this, it’s probably hard to imagine the pain a kid can feel from not being accepted by his or her peers. Certainly there’s a variance in emotions even in kids who are bullied.
Personally, I know I was deeply impacted. My isolation was a vortex that swallowed my self-esteem and crippled my spirit. I wanted to give up. There was nothing to fight for. I was insignificant; just a face people would forget soon.
But I made a choice. I don’t know exactly why, but I chose to live. Not just to live, but to live for all the kids who couldn’t live because they were the underdogs that got lost in the trample of kids racing to be great. I told myself I would try my best to speak up for the people who have no platform; no audience.
“Bullying is most definitely a prevalent issue in our communities. Many of us do have experiences with bullying, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a big problem,” Huron High sophomore Jessica Liu told me in an interview.
Hani Elhor, a junior at Huron High, shared a similar sentiment. “I definitely see bullying as a problem. I’ve heard many people say that bullying is just ‘a part of growing up’, but it’s really not. No one needs to be bullied or bully someone to grow up successfully.”
So where’s the source of the problem, if there is one?
“From what I’ve observed, bullying is a lot more exposed in elementary and middle school and much less (exposed) in high school. During elementary and middle school, kids are just beginning to see the differences in their peers which (starts) the bullying,” Hani surmised.
“Schools must implement harsher consequences that will have the power to eventually stop bullying. Teachers should also be trained to identify bullying and have the tools to prevent it. Much too often we see kids take their lives because of bullying. That saddest part of stories like those is that they were completely preventable. Some type of legislation needs to be passed that deems bullying as illegal. That is definitely something I would support and like to see happen in the near future,” Hani concluded.
Certainly, legislation to hold bullies legally accountable has already been proposed and spearheaded by none other than the Mother Monster herself. In an impassioned plea to President Barack Obama, Lady Gaga urged him to create a law that would prohibit bullying. Gaga’s call to action was sparked by the recent death of Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old boy from Buffalo, N.Y. who committed suicide after several classmates made harsh taunts about his sexuality. “(Bullying) is a hate crime,” Gaga tweeted.
So what separates bullying from humorous banter?
“Bullying, in my opinion, is really about overpowering others, and power’s definition is vague. In high school, some cases it could just be the clothes you wear that defines it. We have all been bullies before because in some area (or) part of our lives our abilities exceeds others, and knowing that we are above them and having that mentality which shows through action can be called bullying,” Jessica summarized.
“Whether or not bullying is a problem depends on your definition of it. By my definition, it’s almost (a) kind of natural selection. So is it really wrong? Is it really realistic to think that the act of bullying can be gone? Yeah, I don’t have an answer either.”
And that’s just it. Even with all the light being shed on bullying, much of it is still in the dark. What defines the boundaries of bullying? Can there even be a set definition?
For this reason, I’m wary of lawmakers crafting a bill that would endorse either an insufficiently-shallow interpretation of bullying, or draw a dramatic line that ropes in even casual teasing as punishable by law. On the other hand, do we as a society simply wait until another kid commits suicide or shoots up a school before taking action?
These are questions I’m still pondering. For now, I’m more intent on doing what I can to prevent bullying from happening. It’s really up to each of us to take an active role in eradicating bullying.
William Faulkner sums it up with: “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world... would do this, it would change the earth. ”
Of course, there are things everybody can do to help kids who are going through a rough time at school. Individual teachers can play a pivotal role in the life of a student. In high school, I have had a few teachers who significantly impacted my life not only because of their thinking, but more so because of their belief in me to succeed.
Students are integral in this operation. Standing on the sidelines must cease to be the convention; silence can be toxic. If you don’t speak up, would anyone else say something?
“It's really simple like you have someone to sit with at lunch, but other girl no one likes doesn't,” Jessica said. So what would you do? “Nice people that are a bit clueless; people point them out (and) make fun of them,” Jessica continued.
“Can I help them? I will be kind to them, but will that change the actions of others?” But sometimes, all you can change is yourself, and that’s enough.
“Above all, we need to stand up for each other because at the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do,” said Hani.
Already, organizations all over the country are making strides to end this problem. Oct. 12 is the official Day of Unity sponsored by PACER’s National Bully Prevention Center. To spread the message of ending (or at least significantly curbing) bullying, be sure to wear some orange. To help permeate a deeper audience, advocates can RSVP on the Facebook event page as well as print out informational posters to tack around school.
In addition, Detroit’s 98.7 Amp Radio has teamed up with GlovesOn to raise awareness for bullying by giving out tickets to the Jay-Z and Kayne West concert at the Palace of Auburn Hills to a few lucky winners who take the Cornerman Pledge to stand up against bullying.
Something must be done to alleviate the overarching issue of intolerance in schools. Its ugly byproduct is bullying, which has already claimed numerous lives and has scarred the hearts of many more. The solution might not be attainable, but the beginning of the end starts with each of us.