By MICHELE MATTIA, ANTHONY VIGNA, and KEVIN SEABROOK
October 2013 is designated as National Bullying Awareness Month. This cause has become so significant to the younger generation, since today’s age has brought so much attention to bullying following the suicides of young adults.
An example of such a tragedy is Tyler Climente, who killed himself in 2010 after his roommate at Rutgers University filmed him kissing someone of the same sex. Another instance is Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old girl who moved to the U.S. from Ireland, who killed herself that same year after being bullied in high school by classmates in Massachusetts. Each of these instances formed a cultural army of anti-bullying advocates created by some celebrities, the media, and lawmakers.
Bullying occurs when someone acts in an aggressive behavior to typically force someone to do what he or she wants. It is a problem that persists worldwide that can cause psychological and possibly physical damage to other people.
Bullying victim, Phoebe Prince, enrolled at South Hadley High School in 2009 after moving to the United States from Ireland. Prince soon ran into a handful of trouble with a set of girls who apparently were angry about the new kid in town dating two male students. Other students joined in the harassment.
Over the course of a few months, Prince was verbally abused in person and on social sites like Facebook. She was also threatened multiple times through hostile text messages. On the last day of her life, Jan. 14, 2010, her bullies called her an Irish slut, and suggested that she kill herself. It just so happened that on this day she decided to do so.
Five students were charged with a ton amount of felony and misdemeanor violations in connection with Prince’s death. They all pleaded guilty to criminal harassment and in result got a “slap on the wrist” kind of consequence being sentenced to probation and community service.
Anne O’Brien and Jeremy Prince, parents of Prince’s, filed a complaint with New Jerseys Commission Against Discrimination in November 2010, alleging that the South Hadley Public Schools had failed to protect Prince against bullying, according to NBC News.
According to DoSomething.org, a non-profit group advocating social change campaigns, over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year and 1 out of every 10 drop out of school after being repeatedly bullied.
The most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a government organization that works to protect the health of America, show that suicides fell marginally from 8.02 per 100,000 in 2000 to 7.79 per 100,00 in 2009 among 15 to 19 year old teenagers.
Brooke Jamison, a senior and law and society major at Ramapo, said that her parents were a positive influence on her life in regards to bullying.
“Bullying is something my parents informed me about,” she said. “They taught me different ways to deal with bullying, whether it’s bullying on me or someone I know, I will always try and do the right thing”.
In 2011, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, a nationwide health-risks survey for adolescence, found that 16 percent of high school students were bullied in that year.
“I dealt with some bullying before in my freshman year of high school,” said Josh Danielle, junior basketball player at Ramapo.
YNA, which stands for You’re Not Alone, is an anti-bullying club at Ramapo that brings people together on campus and fights bullying through on-campus events. This Friday, YNA will be holding an event called The Million Misfit Sock March in which participants will wear mismatched socks to represent their individuality and make a stance against bullying. They are one of the many active groups of people that are against bullying during National Bullying Awareness Month.
Tyler Clementi Anti-Harassment Act
In 2010, Rutgers student Tyler Clementi was found kissing another man through a webcam planted by his roommate, Dharun Ravi. This hate crime caused Clementi to experience emotional turmoil and jump off of the George Washington Bridge. In the end, Ravi was not charged for Clementi’s death.
US Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Rush Holt created the Tyler Clementi Anti-Harassment Act in response to this tragic suicide. The act sets out to make grants available to colleges so that they can enforce anti-bullying policies as they see fit. So, the bill doesn’t set out to prevent bullying in a specific way, and method of prevention is completely in the hands of each university.
Jenna Vigna, a 26-year-old elementary school teacher in New Milford, recognizes the importance of the Tyler Clementi Anti-Harassment Act as well. She said that this law is important because it lays out what isn’t acceptable for students.
“It tells everyone what they need to do in a very clear cut manner,” she said. “Following the aftermath of those tragedies, teachers at all levels know what they need to do if someone is being bullied and there is no room to take things lightly.”
The Tyler Clementi Anti-Harassment Act only covers bullying at a university level. However, Vigna believes it is important to start teaching anti-bullying values from a young age. The school she teaches at regularly has assemblies that teach students the problems with bullying, often in a fun, engaging way.
“Especially as a kindergarten teacher, I want my students to know that bullying is not accepted from the start and what students should do if they are feeling bullied,” she said. “It will just get worse otherwise.”
New Jersey citizens think the Tyler Clementi Anti-Harassment Act is a step in the right direction. Justin Barredo, 20-year-old nursing major at Ramapo, recalls being bullied in the past and having to deal with the problem all on his own.
“I actually use to be friends with this person who moved into my town in the 8th grade,” he said. “He was really fun to be around at first, but then he started to call me names and called me a fag for dressing a certain way and for doing theater.”
Barredo said that he realized through this course of events that bullying is a horrible problem. When hearing about the Tyler Clementi Anti-Harassment Act, Barredo said that he was all for it.
“At that age, everyone is pretty much an adult,” he said. “It’s a good idea to have the school to intervene.”
Celebrities Take Action Against Bullying
Some people receive inspiration to fight against bullying from their favorite celebrities. The action of putting an end to bullying does not only resonate with the students and young people who witness their friends, people they know, or even themselves get bullied daily, but with various celebrities in the media as well who have felt a need to use their power to make a change in the recent statistics.
Twenty-one-year-old Demi Lovato, former Disney Channel starlet and current musician, singer/songwriter, and judge for the hit singing competition show, “The X Factor,” makes it clear that she has a passion towards the Anti Bullying Movement. According to her official website, Lovato used her voice to actively speak her mind in Seventeen Magazine about issues she dealt with as a young girl in terms of body image and bullying, and also became an ambassador for anti bullying campaigns.
Eighteen-year-old Casey Fitzsimmons talked about her experience with bullying and how she personally looks up to Demi Lovato as a role model for her image in the spotlight and anti bullying efforts.
“Majorly, Demi Lovato helped me through my time of bullying. She’s a victim herself and has made it very clear that we should not define ourselves based on our past and our imperfections, which helped me so much because I was being bullied for my imperfections,” said Fitzsimmons. “With people like Demi Lovato, Ellen Degeneres, Brittany Snow, and more who are advocates for bullying prevention, our peers are more likely to listen to them, because they are the people we look up to in this generation.”
“She used Seventeen as a platform to discuss her personal issues as a part of a larger campaign called ‘Love is Louder than the Pressure to Be Perfect,’ directed towards teen girls. After revealing that she had been bullied at the age of 12, Lovato has also supported numerous anti-bullying organizations. In 2012, she was named the ambassador for Secret’s ‘Mean Stinks’, an anti-bullying campaign to inspire students to ‘gang up for good’ against girl-to-girl bullying,” according to her official website, demilovato.com.
Other teen-based celebrities are stepping forward to join the fight as well, such as the popular British boy band, One Direction. They partnered up with Office Depot in their 1D + OD Together Against Bullying campaign to launch a sponsorship to send five lucky winners and an adult or friend to 1D Day, a seven hour live broadcasted event they’re hosting to meet the band.
“The New F Word,” another anti-bullying campaign recently launched in the summer of 2013 by Ronnie Kroell and Elliott London, along with co-creator Bianca Kosoy, as part of the Friend Movement. The Friend Movement helps shows anti-bullying images through art and media in an optimistic light. The movement titles its motto: “FATTY, FAGGOT, FREAK … WE DON’T THINK SO. HOW ABOUT FRIEND.”
Caitlin Miller, a 20-year-old Caldwell College student recalled a time in middle school when she was bullied and was a victim of name-calling to the point where she would lie to her mom that she was sick so she wouldn’t have to attend school. She feels that looking back, the experiences have made her stronger today.
“I feel like I’m a stronger person now because of what I went through. I try not to take what people say about me to heart. I also try to forget about my past and move on toward my future,” said Miller.
Along with Miller and other students who have been or continue to be bullied, moving towards the future of bullying awareness is becoming more optimistic. Between law enforcement, the power of youth and the powerful campaigns against bullying by celebrities, the issue of bullying is getting much more responsiveness in America.