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Say 'no' to bullying

Barry McNamara
02/28/2011
“Bullying” is an ugly word. Those in older generations might quickly think of a boy on a playground, forcing another student to give up his lunch money.

While that type of behavior still exists, the presence of bullying goes far beyond that, and learning more about the subject is a major point of emphasis on the Monmouth College campus this semester.

MC’s theatre department hosted the most recent discussion about bullying, but assistant professor of theatre Janeve West said the effort has been cross-disciplinary, with educational studies and sociology/anthropology joining student groups – primarily Students Organized to Unite People (SOUP) – in helping to shed light on the subject.

In fact, two members of the educational studies department, Craig Vivian and Laura Zieglowsky, led a one-hour discussion on Feb. 27, prior to the final performance of Lillian Hellman’s “The Children Hour.”

“Inspired by the rash of media reports on the impact of bigotry, hate speech and bullying, the theatre department decided to make one of our productions a central point in a larger campus conversation,” explained West. “The themes running through ‘The Children’s Hour’ deal with lies, deceit, gossip and bigotry.”

Of the 30 persons attending the discussion session, about half raised their hands when asked if they had been bullied.

Zieglowsky circulated a set of 2007 statistics that indicated that 32 percent of K-12 students in the U.S. reported having been bullied during the school year. Her handout also included a list of several anti-bullying programs, including Preventing Relational Aggression in Schools Everyday (PRAISE) and the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which is currently in use at approximately 7,000 U.S. schools.

An element critical to the discussion is what, in fact, constitutes bullying, and the founder of one of the above programs addressed that on his website.

“A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself,” said Dan Olweus. “Bullying can take on many forms. As part of the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire, students are asked if they have been bullied in any of … nine ways.”

Physical bullying is only one of those ways. Having things taken away – such as milk money – is another. But the list also includes verbal bullying, bullying through social exclusion or isolation, bullying through lies and false rumors (gossip) and cyber bullying.

Vivian touched on those different categories when he discussed “direct and indirect bullying.”

“Indirect bullying is gossiping or badmouthing,” he said before asking the students, “What’s the difference between gossip, trash talk and bullying?”

“Gossip is 100 percent behind the other person’s back,” said one. Another said he didn’t have a message board on his dorm room door so that he couldn’t receive trash talk bullying in that form.

Vivian suggested that what takes teasing or trash talk to the bullying level is its rate and intensity. He also said that how the target responds is a factor. “If the target says ‘I don’t like this happening’ (either out loud or internally), then it becomes bullying.”

The students in attendance were asked, “How widespread is bullying on our campus?”

“It happens on every campus, and you’re going to notice it here unless you’re blind, deaf and dumb,” replied one. “It’s the stereotypical hierarchy, with jocks at the top. It’s similar to high school.”

Many agreed with a student who said the cafeteria is “gossip central.”

“We all walk in the same door and we leave through the same door,” said one. “When you walk in, you might as well have a spotlight on you.”

The presence of technology (cell phones and the Internet) makes bullying more prevalent, and Zieglowsky added that television isn’t helping, either.

“Reality TV essentially consists of putting a bunch of people in a room and see who gets bullied. There’s no escape. And we’re entertained by that.”

Zieglowsky said that sense of a lack of escape is a reason why studies show that more of the mass shooting incidents at schools have occurred at rural locations, as opposed to urban settings.

Another reason for the prevalence of bullying, said Vivian, is a lack of knowledge or an indifference to the subject. He discussed a study in which classrooms were videotaped all day. In instances of teasing and bullying, teachers who were close enough to hear or see the activity did nothing 50 percent of the time.

“If you’re going to bully, you’re going to see it first,” Vivian added. “You’re going to see it modeled. This model is most often in the home. Often, the victim at home becomes the bully at school.”

Vivian then cited a study that showed that 33 percent of individuals who exhibited bullying traits at age 8 were still demonstrating that type of activity at age 30.

While the educational studies department primarily deals with preparing its students to recognize bullying so they can address it in their future classrooms, SOUP’s focus is on the here and now, especially relating to anti-GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) bullying.

Already this semester, the organization has sponsored a few activities. During national “No Name-Calling” week, SOUP created an interactive display that featured a variety of slurs that are used against the GLBTQ community and other marginalized groups, with explanations of how the hurtful language effects people.

Taking it off campus, three students – Mary Bohlander, Michael Carioto and Lorena Johnson-Miles – traveled to the Faith United Presbyterian Church early in the semester to give a presentation on bullying and the GLBTQ community for an adult Sunday school class. Soon after, SOUP hosted a program in the Hewes Library where students came to discuss the problem of bullying and brainstormed ways that they can help eliminate it.

The same weekend as “The Children’s Hour,” SOUP sent four students to the Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Ally College Conference to gain leadership skills and a fuller understanding of activism within the GLBTQ community.

In April, Campus Pride co-founder Shane Windmeyer will visit MC. His presentation will offer ways to build healthy conversations on campus and make the college experience more inviting for all students. A nationally known speaker and workshop leader, Windmeyer highlights issues of student safety, respect and open dialogue on college campuses.

“All of these discussions and activities offer the Monmouth community a chance to gain an understanding of bullying and begin saying ‘no’ to the problem,” said Johnson-Miles. “SOUP is convinced that bullying can be stopped through education and has made anti-bullying efforts one of our top priorities this semester.”

Other ways the issue of bullying is being addressed on campus include:

• Programs in the freshman women’s dorms on the topic of positive communication techniques and problem solving.

• Interactive evening events that approached the topic of healthy communication techniques through humorous scenarios, somewhat like “The Dating Game.”

• Students in West’s “Theatre for Social Change” course who are working on culminating projects in April that will create a dialogue on bullying and other topics.