For whatever reason, students seem to be the least consulted source for bullying in this country. Think about a time you saw a news story or a documentary about bullying. Who did it feature? Probably some adults. School administrators, district leaders, law enforcement, “experts,” and maybe even some parents, but most of the time you don’t hear from the victims themselves. Obviously, some of them elect not to talk about it, but that isn’t universally the case. The truth is that we have systematically excluded students from this conversation because their answers often undermine and expose our attempts at making things look like isolated and contained problems.
A couple of weeks ago a group of students walked out of Lawrence North High School. They were protesting bullying and sexual harassment. “We don’t feel safe,” one student said. This came on the heels of a video of a bathroom altercation being circulated throughout the school.
Of course, the school administrators in this situation claim they are handling things, and I’m not saying they are lying. However, in the case of bullying and harassment, perception is reality. If I am a student who is bullied, which I was, and I report said bullying, I don’t care what “discipline” the bully supposedly received if I still see him walking the halls every day. School administrators have to remember, the ultimate goal of discipline is to curb or eliminate behavior. A lot of deans and principals measure their response to incidents and not the results of those interventions. That is somewhat understandable because the response is tangible. From a legal and reporting perspective, this is the safest bet for the school. But ultimately, it doesn’t make a difference to the student who is getting bullied if you gave their bully a referral or a bad mark on their permanent record if the bully is still willing and able to torment them.
Schools need to adjust the way they look at these problems. Right now, they look at them top down, but they need to look at them bottom up. The bullying happens at the ground level. What happens in the dean’s office may be completely irrelevant to what happens in the hallway and until the deans of the world figure that out, this problem will persist.
In the spirit of listening to the students here is what junior Nola Hamm told the Indy Star about the situation at her school: “A lot of us don’t feel safe. We’ve made that clear multiple times and they don’t care. They do nothing about it.”