The Second-Grader Who Stood Up for Me

April 24, 2012

I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who has not experienced bullying in some form — as the bully, the victim, or a bystander. I am no exception. But my first-grade year was a little easier thanks to my friend and neighbor, a cool and authoritative second-grader who dutifully sat next to me and stood up for me every day on our bus rides to and from school. This did not solve all my problems, but watching an advance screening of the newly released and deeply moving documentary Bully, I was brought back to that tumultuous time. And I was grateful.

Film director Lee Hirsch (left) discusses Bully with Jackie Libby (center) who, along with her son, was featured in the documentary. Katy Butler (right) wrote an online petition to change the movie’s rating from R to PG-13.

Film director Lee Hirsch (left) discusses Bully with Jackie Libby (center) who, along with her son, was featured in the documentary. Katy Butler (right) wrote an online petition to change the movie’s rating from R to PG-13.

Bully tells the story of a boy named Alex, who developed the common and problematic coping mechanism of denying and excusing his bullying experiences by saying that kids were just “messing around” — a response that is discussed extensively in AAUW’s research report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School. There is one particular line in the film that stood out and still haunts me. When confronted by his mother about the punching, stabbing, and strangling he was experiencing daily on the school bus, Alex said, “If you say these people aren’t my friends, then what friends do I have?”

The media’s focus on the bullying and harassment that happens both in schools and online has escalated. With that increased coverage, the national discourse surrounding bullying has grown more heated, and proposed solutions have been contentious. Now, it’s time to turn our shock and outrage into action.

There are many institutional changes that need to be made, and many suggested prevention methods are spelled out in Crossing the Line — seriously, you need to read it. But we can all individually make the choice to take bullying seriously. According to this research, 48 percent of students reported that they experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010–11 school year. Since so many kids are affected, there are a lot of chances for individual action. One person who rode the school bus with me made the choice to stand by me. We can all be that one person who helps — that person who makes the choice to no longer stand by and not take action.

I challenge you all to be that one person. You may make the difference of a lifetime. If you are in school, I challenge you to befriend that one kid in class — you know who I mean. I challenge everyone to go see Bully, which is now in theaters nationwide. And when you do, I challenge you to take any willing (or slightly arm-twisted) middle and high school students you know with you. I challenge you all to read Crossing the Line and share it with your local schools, your friends, and any teachers, students, and parents you know. Download or order your free copy today. Finally, I challenge you to move the conversation forward by engaging others in the difficult topic of bullying and harassment.

Start today — share your experiences with us in the comments section.

This post was written by AAUW Donor Communications Intern Sarah Spencer.

By:   |   April 24, 2012

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