A few months back I was working with a women whose daughter was experiencing bullying due to her body while attending school. Her mother would go into her school at least once a week after her daughter would come home from school in tears due to the horrible and harmful words they would so casually throw at her. When I thought back on my own experiences of being bullied in school I wasn’t at all surprised by my coworker telling me that every time she went into the school to speak to someone about the harassment that her daughter faced they didn’t take her seriously. She was consistently told that it was just what kids do, that her daughters experience at school was completely normal.
What is normal about this situation is the way the school administration ignores the bullying that is going on right in front of their faces. I had a teacher who would lean against the wall and not even comment while my classmates on a daily basis tortured me. He only reacted when someone would physically assault another student. This has been what still lingers in the back of my mind when I think back to when I went to school, not the words thrown at me by now faceless students who are only part of my past, but the teachers and school administrators who allowed for my torture to happen. They continually allowed for my other classmates to harass and belittle me until I was the one who took action. I became angry and closed off as a person because they didn’t take my experience seriously.
We need to change the dialog to stop from only speaking to the students about how they must change their behavior but change the behavior of the school administrators who passively allow this behavior to fester instead of acting proactively so that the Tyler Clementi’s of the world don’t exist. No longer should we stand for the idea that making another student feel like an outcast is just what happens. It is a form of violence, pure and simple. We need harsher punishment for all forms of violence, physical or otherwise, telling someone to ‘stop it’ when they doing what would be considered harassment in the adult world is not an acceptable reaction.
The bottom line is that teachers and school administrators are products of the very same environment that children live in today. They hold the same likelihood for prejudice as others and can perpetuate violence by blaming the behavior on the students when they themselves don’t take it as a serious matter. What we need are school administrations to take all forms of bullying or harassment as seriously as physical violence, because what harms the mind or spirit is violence.
We need to stop being reactive to the deaths of students that are the product of bullying and start proactively stopping this harassment in our communities by challenging the social norms of bad behavior from the top school officials all the way down.