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Exploring Ways to Combat Bullying

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By Claire Walla

Karen Ross, the director of non-residential services for The Retreat, came to the Hampton Library last Thursday, October 20 for a discussion on bullying.

Bullying has recently become a much talked about topic across the country. In addition to this being national anti-bullying month, the federal government has recently passed the “Dignity for All Students Act,” which will require all public schools to have anti-bullying measures in place by July of 2012.

“We really have to change the environment of the schools,” Ross explained. “From the administration to the cafeteria staff, everyone needs to be trained to handle bullying in the same way.”

One of the first things she did at the presentation was pass out a piece of paper with a collection of drawings featuring kids with a full spectrum of expressions spread across their faces. It depicts a diagram known as “The Bullying Circle.” The momentum moves counter-clockwise from angry-looking Bullies and smiling Active Supporters, to rather aloof Disengaged Onlookers and fervent Defenders. The Targets, looking rather downcast, stand in the middle with their head bowed down.

“A lot of people think there’s just a bully, and the person who’s being bullied,” Ross explained. “But everyone here on this page is participating,” she said, pointing to the black-and-white figures on the page.

Ross’ presentation last week did not attract a large crowd, but she was able to draw from the experiences of those in attendance to punctuate her point.

Dan and Darlene Claud — the father and aunt of a high school student at Southampton High School who they say has been suffering from physical abuse and verbal taunts from a bully at his school for over a year —came to hear Ross speak because, as Darlene said, “we’re at our wits’ end.”

She and her brother expressed frustration that the school district has not been able to prevent the bullying their family has experienced.

“We’ve been doing so much it’s kind of overwhelming,” Darlene went on. “A few weeks ago we went to the school board and told them how we felt. It drew a little attention, it at least made [the school district] react, but it’s not necessarily going to provide a better environment at the school.”

Alluding to “The Bullying Cycle,” Ross emphasized that many more students are involved in bullying than the bully and his or her victim. And in that sense, she said, one of the best ways to prevent bullying is to change the culture of a school district so that more students will step in to stop bullying when they see it occur.

“If we can get some kids in the school who are acting as leaders to educate their peers on these different levels,” she explained, “It might help the situation.”

Ross said students like Rashida Perez — who also attended last Thursday’s discussion — are exactly the type of student that would benefit Darlene Claud’s nephew to have around.

Perez, who is currently participating in The Retreat’s Teen Leadership Program, is a junior at Bridgehampton High School, spoke about incidences of bullying she has witnessed at her school. According to Perez, last year there was a fight at her school between two students.

“People knew it was going to happen and they didn’t say anything,” she explained. “I got up and got in front of them and yelled, ‘Stop!,’” she continued. “I was the only one doing something.”

When Ross asked Perez why she suspected no other students stepped in to prevent the fight, Perez responded: “Everyone wants to be ‘in,’ they want to do what everyone else is doing.”

“I think it’s important for everyone to know what bullying is. You really have to get out there and stand up for everyone,” she added. “It’s like a domino effect. If one person stands up, others will.”