Posts Tagged ‘suicide’

Why We Can’t ‘Just Say No’ To Bullying



By | blog, LGBT

My concerns are mounting about some of the emerging messaging and organizing around the issue of bullying, especially connected to the film Bully. President Obama, himself, has hailed the director of the film, and Mitt Romney’s anti-gay high school violent behavior is national news. When you factor in the increasing attention to so-called zero-tolerance policies and the frequent announcement of new anti-bullying initiatives, and it is clear that the manner in which our national discourse evolves on this issue couldn’t be more timely — or critical.

Don’t get me wrong. Bully is a moving documentary that deserves the attention it is receiving and one that I, too, would urge parents, in particular, to see. But, when I went to a screening, I left the theater wondering about what message the film is leaving with viewers, particularly with students, its primary target audience.

The closing scene in Bully showcases a rally where people touched by youth-on-youth harassment release balloons and call for an end to bullying. While heart-warming, this gesture is far too simple a solution to a phenomenon that is steeped in and abetted by unexamined bias.

In our quick fix, short attention span culture, shaking a finger is not enough. Just like the much-parodied mantra of the ’80s and ’90s to “Just Say No” to drugs, simply saying “Stop Bullying” will never change deeply entrenched cultural attitudes.

Similarly, harsh “zero-tolerance” policies fail to take on the complex nature of the motives of those who are doing the bullying. They do nothing to develop compassion and respectful understanding of differences among students or staff. What’s more, the students primarily disciplined by zero tolerance rules are disproportionately LGBT youth, students of color and students with disabilities, ironically the same groups that are often the most targeted. Criminalizing and expelling students who bully, without looking at the underlying causes of their behavior, only creates more pain in their lives and the lives of others.

My concern is even more urgent for the young people who go to see Bully who, themselves, are harassed every day traveling to and from school, in their classrooms or in the hallways. The bleak picture Bully portrays of what life is like for students like them is the opposite of a lifeline. Waiting for one’s community, church or family to become more loving and less abusive, without any roadmap on how to get there, will take too long. To a targeted teen who’s on the edge, that’s an impossible dream.

I worry that someone who is subjected to endless abuse every day, with no adults standing up to challenge the culture of bias-based harassment, will choose the route of the youth who are (finally) honored and celebrated in Bully — but only after they took their own lives. With suicide, someone finally pays attention, holds a sign in their honor, and chants their name with respect and love. But only after death. That sends a horrible message, one that can, in some ways, make the option of taking one’s life appealing, prompting what has been documented as “suicide contagion” by experts in the field.

We saw some of that after the tragic death of Tyler Clementi and others; only after losing them did those around them pay closer attention to the school, church, and family cultures that contribute to so many bullying-related suicides. Now, Tyler’s own parents, for example, devout Christians who used to believe homosexuality is a sin, are publicly saying we need to challenge our cultural assumptions about gayness.

Fortunately, the director of Bully is starting to talk more about what needs to happen next after screenings of his film. But I want to urge him, and everyone else jumping on the anti-bullying bandwagon to take their calls for action one step further.

We should be asking how it’s possible for high-achieving students like Dharun Ravi, the roommate who videotaped Tyler’s tryst, to arrive at college still thinking it’s perfectly normal to humiliate a classmate for being gay. What was missing in his K-12 education that would allow a high school student to graduate with that assumption? And how can we make sure that doesn’t happen again?

In most communities, if you don’t fit into some narrowly defined box of how girls and boys are “supposed” to act or look just because of your gender, you are at great risk to be bullied. If you are attracted to students who are the same-sex as you are, you are at great risk to be bullied.

So, why can’t we call it like it is and demand solutions that reflect these facts, which directly address the root causes of so much bullying?

Simply put, there is no way we will stop bullying unless we insist that the curricula in our schools address anti-gay stigma and the pressures to conform to gender norms. Until politicians of all political stripes stop vilifying the LGBT population. Until all “people of God” stop telling children they are evil.

The stories captured in Bully certainly imply for example, that hostility and ignorance about sexual orientation and the pressures to fit into a standard “male” or “female” box are critical factors in almost all of the horrific, senseless deaths it recounts. And if targeted students are like Alex, the film’s central character, and have a mental or physical disability or other characteristic that sets them apart from others, the chances are extremely high that the weapons used against them will also include homophobic or sexist slurs and innuendos.

Yet Bully and other programs and policies like it stop far short of demanding that our schools adopt curricula that is inclusive and respectful of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They fail to make a strong enough case that parents and educators could transform school climates dramatically if they took the courageous step of challenging behavioral norms for children based on gender. They rarely ask parents to question their own biased attitudes, which they pass down to their children who then turn against their peers.

So administrators, please: be very thoughtful when you ask your staff to go see Bully or sign onto an anti-bullying campaign. Don’t do it unless you are ready to insist that there be changes in your curriculum.

Teachers, be very careful if you take your students to see Bully. Don’t do it unless you can take the next step immediately to begin addressing gender pressures and homophobia in your classrooms and hallways. Please consider how students who are already on the edge may feel after watching this film if you don’t.

Politicians, it’s a no-brainer to support anti-bullying policies. But we need you to also have the backbone to support and fund curricula that is inclusive of LGBT-headed families, youth, and teaching methods that don’t reinforce limited gender norms.

The best thing that could come out of the mass attention to Bully and other new anti-bullying efforts would be that parents, politicians and educators joined together and did far more than put up posters saying “No Bullies Allowed” or offer speeches and incomplete policies that don’t really do the job. We need to roll up our sleeves, take some risks, and open up real dialogue in our school communities about these deeply entrenched, and often politically sanctioned, biases.

 

You can also read this post on The Huffington Post where it was first published.

The President Gets a ‘B’ on Bullying — Grading The White House Conference



By | Straightlaced

Originally published in The Huffington Post

Hats off to the Obamas for drawing national attention to the problem of bullying in our school communities. Hosting a conference at the White House to draw more media attention to bullying is an excellent step forward.

Like most symbolic White House gatherings, though, this conference recommended some good steps forward but also carefully avoided some important strategies that need to be put in place if we are ever going to truly stop bullying.

Here’s my report card on what I heard on the live feed from the White House Thursday.

Raising the level of public awareness about the importance of addressing bullying in schools:

A+

“Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up,” the president said. “We can take steps — all of us — to help prevent bullying and create a climate in our schools in which all of our children can feel safe; a climate in which they all can feel like they belong.”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Drawing attention to the fact that bias issues underlie many bullying incidents.

B

The president deserves credit for acknowledging that many students are targeted because of some aspect of their identity. “[Bullying] is also more likely to affect kids that are seen as different,” the President said, “whether it’s because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the disability they may have, or sexual orientation.”

He acknowledged the families of two youths who committed suicide last year, one of them, Carl Walker Hoover, because of being tormented by homophobic harassment.

But he failed to explain that bias-infused harassment affects all youth, not just those who have are seen as “different.” Anti-LGBT stigma and the pressure to conform to gender norms, for example, affects all girls and boys regardless of how they may identify sexually at any point in their lives.
Calling for system wide efforts for curricula that address rampant anti-LGBT stigma, racial and ethnic stereotypes, mental and physical disabilities, religious differences, and pressures to conform to gender norms.

C

Acknowledging the families of those who endured bias-based harassment is not the same as calling for pro-active education that prevents that bias from developing in the first place. It is definitely possible to pull school communities together to take initiative against bias. I know we can because we have been helping to do that for years with GroundSpark’s Respect for All Project.

Shifting the focus from individual responses to bullying to communitywide culture-changing ones.

B-

The selection of experts on the panel that spoke after Mr. and Mrs. Obama were focused primarily on psychological and behavioral factors, which, of course, contribute to bullying. But only one, Professor George Sugai, encouraged the discussion to focus on sociological factors, namely changing the culture in schools.

Advocating for funding and programs that train every teacher on how to address bullying and the bias that underlies it.

C

One speaker mentioned that we need more teacher training. While another commented on the fact that while 40 states have anti-cyber bullying laws, none of them have provided funding to enforce them. Lack of training for individual teachers and for school staff as a whole is probably the single most significant stumbling block to changing school culture.


Moving from rhetoric to action

B

The White House announced several programs that Facebook, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and others are launching to step up ways to address bullying.

And kudos are deserved for the federal government’s launch of www.stopbullying.gov, which amazingly includes a section for LGBT youth. But the website has no resources to help schools and educators address bias issues, or to help train teachers or to help with a systematic approach to change school climate.

Overall Grade Point Average

B

Areas for Improvement

1. Tie federal funding for education to mandatory anti-bias and anti-bullying training for school personnel that focuses on school wide culture change, not just stronger discipline.

2. Bravely call for more pro-active curricula that help students learn about why all kinds of stigma, including homophobia, are harmful to everyone and how they can be allies to stop it.

Mr. President, you made significant progress during this grading period, and we hope you can realize your full potential in the semesters to come.

 

Sobering Start to our Let’s Get Real Training in Asheville, NC



By | Let's Get Real

At the end of April, our Respect For All Project facilitators, Nancy Otto and Scott Hirschfeld, led a training in Asheville, North Carolina centered around our anti-bullying film Let’s Get Real. The training was organized by Safe Schools for All, an emerging alliance in western North Carolina of organizations committed to addressing bias-based harassment in the region’s schools. Scott kicked off the session by sharing a gripping suicide note of a 14-year old boy, named Hamed who, after being relentlessly tormented by his peers with slurs like big-nose, four-eyes, geek and fag, 14-year-old Hamed became so depressed that he saw only one way out.

IMG_0506

GroundSpark trainer Nancy Otto (standing) facilitates a small group discussion

The training attendees—teachers, after school youth service providers, principals, parents, and a couple of clergymembers—asked if we could share Hamed’s last note to his parents, which Scott read out loud at the training. And so we are reprinting it here below. It was printed in the book Cyber Bullying: Issues and Solutions for the School by Shaheen Shariff (Taylor & Francis, Inc.).There is an article about Hamed online.

Here is the excerpt from Hamed’s five-page suicide note explaining his decision:

“Dear Mom and Dad, The first thing is, I love you Mom and Dad, but you didn’t understand why I had to commit suicide.  There was so much going on and I tried to cope with it, but I couldn’t take it anymore…It was horrible.  Every day I was teased and teased, everyone calling me gay, fag, queer, and I would always act like it didn’t bug me…But I was crying inside me.  It hurt me so bad ……and when people said it, my own friends never backed me up.  They just laughed…  I know that you are going to miss me and that you will never forgive me, but you will never understand.  You weren’t living my life.  I hate myself for doing this to you.  I really, really hate myself, but there is no other way out for me…I love you Dad and Mom.  Please, please tell the people at school why I did this.  I don’t want somebody else to do what I have done.  Mom, after my death please, please go to schools and talk to kids that bullying and teasing has big consequences…Please visit my grave often so I’m not lonely.”

After watching Let’s Get Real and going through the training, the 65 trainees were each eager to start working on the action plan they developed for their own schools and community groups. “It’s an intense way to start off,” Scott reflects, “but it certainly gets us all on the same page about how high the stakes are and how important it is that we all work harder to address these issues.”

Readers Respond to Recent Huffington Post op-ed on Gender Issues in Phoebe Prince Case



By | Latest News
In April, Debra Chasnoff had an op-ed published in the Huffington Post about the underlying gender issues that haven’t been discussed very much in the community response to the suicide of 15 year old Phoebe Prince. (LINK to article). We received a wide range of responses to the article, some published on the HuffPo website, some on GroundSpark’s facebook page, others by email. As always, these issues, and our perspective on them, reach a wide range of people who connect to youth in different ways.
Here are some excerpts from the responses.
• Great article!!  I am so glad you wrote that.  Finally, someone is addressing the core of the bullying — youth are merely acting out the values of society.  It’s striking that most acts of bullying center around a boy – whether it’s competition for a boy, as in Phoebe’s case, or the accusation of being gay, such as in Carl Walker Hoovers case…. I love how you recognize the “problem” as being institutional/societal and the solution as being educational.
• Thank you! – I live in Springfield, MA, I sit in a men’s group in here with men whose children go to the South Hadley schools. I have been watching this closely – with sadness and anger. ??There are good people doing great work out there – like you! And I think that it is time for adult men to go into the shadows of their own adolescence and learn how to help boys become mature, compassionate men. ??I believe that there is a stunning lack of emotional intelligence and basic empathy in our modeling for teenagers – and this case demonstrates how stuck we are. We continue to use ‘carrot and stick’ approaches when these methods of motivating have been shown OVER and OVER to FAIL in psychological & social studies… Our culture is driven by adolescent boy mentality – consume, objectify, compete, detach, blame, hide, attack. ??Boys and girls need to be listened to, accepted, acknowledged, mentored and blessed … every day. In my opinion there aren’t enough adults in our society who know how to do this for each other, let alone for children. I think we need a new movement of adult males. Men who are willing to do the hard emotional inquiry it takes so we can raise the next generations to be healthy, safe and mature men rather than boys in men’s bodies. Ready? www.openmen.org or www.mankindproject.org.
• Arresting and sentencing the students who criminally conspired to torment and abuse a young Irish immigrant will not solve any problems, you are correct in that. However, should the legal system turn a blind eye when peer abuse/bullying includes stalking, statutory rape (it’s a law on the books, and a reason why girls under 16 are called jailbait), and criminal harassment? Do kids get a get out of jail free card for abusing a fellow student? Actions have consequences, sometimes legal ones. Bullying is now 24/7 with social media like formspring.me, facebook, twitter, and texting. Is it time we consider peer abuse to be as harmful to our kids as child abuse.
Dear Debra,
Thank you for this email.  I am a parent of a gay son (who is now thriving in SF as an IT project manager for Wells Fargo), have a local parent support group in Hawaii called Da Moms, and do projects for community outreach and education on GLBT.  We have used It’s Elementary in the past with the state department of education and am working to get greater interest and use of your harassment/bullying, and ofStraightlaced videos.  I am lining up funding and a working committee to hold a 2 day conference for health and social service providers in about a year – and hope to bring in resources from the mainland too.  I plan to make a trip to SF in September and perhaps visit Groundspark then.  You do wonderful work!
Aloha and mahalo (thank you),
• I am an elementary teacher. Very little bullying ever happens in front of me. A LOT happens when adults aren’t looking. There is no perfect way to deal with it. Punishing the bullies makes the victim a bigger target…or provides reason to unleash their henchmen. Shielding the victim would require them being with an adult every second they are at school…totally impractical and it puts another target on their backs. …Ms. Chasnoff suggests schools take a more active role in helping students develop better skills in this area, but the girl who said, “We never get to talk about this stuff,” is correct. Curriculum is all tied to teaching the standards in order to cover the material that will be on the state test. Until educator’s heads are removed from the test guillotine, all the little social extras aren’t going to be done….
• As you know, there are a cadre of trainers who are ready to go to any school to educate faculty about these issues. I am one of the National Educaiton Association trainers and we use your films in our presentations. I believe prevention solves a lot of suffering. If you hear of anyone who needs a training for their staff you can contact PSathrum@NEA.org
Good luck and thanks for taking on this fight.
• Thank you for making the connection to the Prince death; I think these reminders of relevance are very important.    Our middle schoolers know and talk about these events, often seeing them as out there, as if there were little likelihood that their own unkindnesses were of a different order.
• I agree that arresting a few students will not stop bullying at that particular school or any other. I have been following this case closely and it shows that something awful must happen in our society to gain any attention on the issue of school bullying. Despite the attention, the response is not effective; like every aggressive or violent act that occurs, someone must be blamed and punished.
As a public health student, my hope is for prevention. The problem is that prevention is not valued in our society because it does not produce readily observable effects like throwing someone in jail does.

In April, Debra Chasnoff had an op-ed published in the Huffington Post about the underlying gender issues that haven’t been discussed very much in the community response to the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince. We received a wide range of responses to the article, some published on the Huffington Post website, some on GroundSpark’s facebook page, others by email. As always, these issues, and our perspective on them, reach a wide range of people who connect to youth in different ways.

Here are some excerpts from the responses:

“Great article!!  I am so glad you wrote that.  Finally, someone is addressing the core of the bullying — youth are merely acting out the values of society.  It’s striking that most acts of bullying center around a boy – whether it’s competition for a boy, as in Phoebe’s case, or the accusation of being gay, such as in Carl Walker Hoover’s case…. I love how you recognize the ‘problem’ as being institutional/societal and the solution as being educational.”

Image from "Let's Get Real"

Image from "Let's Get Real"

“Thank you! – I live in Springfield, MA, I sit in a men’s group in here with men whose children go to the South Hadley schools. I have been watching this closely – with sadness and anger. There are good people doing great work out there – like you! And I think that it is time for adult men to go into the shadows of their own adolescence and learn how to help boys become mature, compassionate men. I believe that there is a stunning lack of emotional intelligence and basic empathy in our modeling for teenagers – and this case demonstrates how stuck we are. We continue to use ‘carrot and stick’ approaches when these methods of motivating have been shown OVER and OVER to FAIL in psychological & social studies… Our culture is driven by adolescent boy mentality – consume, objectify, compete, detach, blame, hide, attack. Boys and girls need to be listened to, accepted, acknowledged, mentored and blessed … every day. In my opinion there aren’t enough adults in our society who know how to do this for each other, let alone for children. I think we need a new movement of adult males. Men who are willing to do the hard emotional inquiry it takes so we can raise the next generations to be healthy, safe and mature men rather than boys in men’s bodies. Ready? www.openmen.org or www.mankindproject.org.”

“Arresting and sentencing the students who criminally conspired to torment and abuse a young Irish immigrant will not solve any problems, you are correct in that. However, should the legal system turn a blind eye when peer abuse/bullying includes stalking, statutory rape (it’s a law on the books, and a reason why girls under 16 are called jailbait), and criminal harassment? Do kids get a get out of jail free card for abusing a fellow student? Actions have consequences, sometimes legal ones. Bullying is now 24/7 with social media like formspring.me, facebook, twitter, and texting. Is it time we consider peer abuse to be as harmful to our kids as child abuse.”

“Dear Debra, Thank you for this email.  I am a parent of a gay son (who is now thriving in SF as an IT project manager), have a local parent support group in Hawaii called Da Moms, and do projects for community outreach and education on GLBT.  We have used It’s Elementary in the past with the state department of education and am working to get greater interest and use of your harassment/bullying, and of Straightlaced videos.  I am lining up funding and a working committee to hold a 2 day conference for health and social service providers in about a year – and hope to bring in resources from the mainland too.  I plan to make a trip to SF in September and perhaps visit Groundspark then.  You do wonderful work!”

Image from "Straightlaced"

Image from "Straightlaced"

“I am an elementary teacher. Very little bullying ever happens in front of me. A LOT happens when adults aren’t looking. There is no perfect way to deal with it. Punishing the bullies makes the victim a bigger target…or provides reason to unleash their henchmen. Shielding the victim would require them being with an adult every second they are at school…totally impractical and it puts another target on their backs. …Ms. Chasnoff suggests schools take a more active role in helping students develop better skills in this area, but the girl who said, “We never get to talk about this stuff,” is correct. Curriculum is all tied to teaching the standards in order to cover the material that will be on the state test. Until educator’s heads are removed from the test guillotine, all the little social extras aren’t going to be done….”

“As you know, there are a cadre of trainers who are ready to go to any school to educate faculty about these issues. I am one of the National Educaiton Association trainers and we use your films in our presentations. I believe prevention solves a lot of suffering. If you hear of anyone who needs a training for their staff you can contact PSathrum@NEA.org. Good luck and thanks for taking on this fight.”

“Thank you for making the connection to the Prince death; I think these reminders of relevance are very important. Our middle schoolers know and talk about these events, often seeing them as out there, as if there were little likelihood that their own unkindnesses were of a different order. ”

“I agree that arresting a few students will not stop bullying at that particular school or any other. I have been following this case closely and it shows that something awful must happen in our society to gain any attention on the issue of school bullying. Despite the attention, the response is not effective; like every aggressive or violent act that occurs, someone must be blamed and punished. As a public health student, my hope is for prevention. The problem is that prevention is not valued in our society because it does not produce readily observable effects like throwing someone in jail does.”

Respect For All News Roundup



By | Latest News

News from around the world that directly connects to the issues GroundSpark works on in our Respect for All Project!

rfaplabel

This week is a special news roundup featuring the latest blog post from Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, regarding yet another tragic suicide of a young person due to bullying.
Read the rest of this post…

“Getting Real’ About Bullying-Related Suicides,” Our Second Op-Ed Piece on the Huffington Post



By | Straightlaced

Our perspective on the recent spate of suicides committed by young people as a result of bullying is featured on the Huffington Post and on Facing History, Facing Today. In this article we discuss why these tragedies are occurring, and what schools can do to become part of the solution.

This week another young life was silently lost in our nation’s schools. Eleven year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover killed himself after enduring months of anti-gay bullying at his school in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Read the rest of this post…

Respect For All News Roundup



By | Latest News

News from around the world that directly connects to the issues GroundSpark works on in our Respect for All Project!

rfaplabel

Read the rest of this post…

The Huffington Post Features Our Article,
“Break the Silence on Bullying”



By | Latest News

Our op ed got published in the Huffington Post about the Eric Mohat suicide, Matthew Shepard and Straightlaced.

Here’s a link to the page on the Huffington Post, or you can read it below:

On Wednesday, 250 educators and students from Laramie, Wyoming opened the 10th Matthew Shepard Symposium for Social Justice by watching the film Straightlaced? How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up. Before the screening, a reporter asked me how today’s climate has changed since Matthew’s brutal murder in 1998. “It’s deceptive,” I said. “We see gay characters on TV regularly now, but after spending five years interviewing teenagers about their experiences with gender-based stereotypes, I’ve learned that popular culture doesn’t necessarily translate into school climates improving around this issue.”

Read the rest of this post…

Respect For All News Roundup



By | Latest News

News from around the world that directly connects to the issues GroundSpark works on in our Respect for All Project!

rfaplabel

Read the rest of this post…