Emily Bazelon, journalist and senior editor at Slate, spoke on her newest release, “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy” Wednesday night at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids.
Bazelon is the second presenter this year in Grand Rapids Community College’s Diversity Lecture series, which is in its 19th year.
Bazelon opened her speech by addressing the growing awareness in the schools about the issue of bullying.
“We are having a moment as a society where we’re taking seriously the harm that kids do to each other.” She included a brief video segment in her talk from her guest appearance on the Colbert Report, offering a humorous relief to a rather serious topic, and segued into defining what bullying truly is, and the different profiles of bullies that are most common in schools.
“Dan Olweus, a Scandinavian psychologist, who launched the field of studying bullying, came up with a good definition in 1969/ He limits bullying to verbal or physical aggression that occurs repeatedly and involves a power differential.” Bazelon said in an interview on her website.
She mentioned in her speech how it is important to stick with a “limited and narrow” definition. “Nobody actually wants to be labeled a bully,” Bazelon said, “Especially for kids, once you’re stuck with it, it changes your own perception of your identity and not in a good way.”
Her speech delved deeper into the different types of bullies, from the classic bully featured in Back to the Future, to the misunderstood Snape from the popular Harry Potter Series. Bazelon did this to emphasize that bullying may not be as cut and dry as we might assume. For many bullies, they are victims themselves. “They tend to be really struggling socially… Their behavior really is a cry for help,” Bazelon said.
Bazelon talked about how in today’s society, it is easier than ever to take on the persona of a bully through the internet. Whether it is becoming a “Facebook Thug”, or a person who hides online because they feel socially insecure in their face to face relationships, bullying has turned into an all-day activity instead of being limited to the schoolyard.
Though it is important for school administrators, parents, and social media sites to be aware of the acts of bullying being performed around them, Bazelon took it a step farther and made the point that preventing bullying may not be as hard as we imagine.
“You don’t necessarily have to be a hero,” Bazelon said. “You don’t have to confront a bullying in the moment in some dramatic way to make a difference.” Studies show that some of the most effective acts in stopping bullying are reaching out to the victim with a simple text, or by giving them a boost of morale by asking if they are okay actually have made more of an impact at times than a big show of force in the moment of the bullying.
Bazelon also emphasized the importance of having other teens and students being advocates for those who are bullied.
“Kids sometimes come up with the best ideas,” Bazelon said, adding that college students have the power to make a difference by standing up against bullying because they hold the credibility of experience that many adults no longer have.
When asked about what steps college students can take to help prevent bullying, Bazelon said, “Look around for other schools who have started groups of college students.” These groups are formed in colleges all over the nation. On a local front, Bazelon encouraged students to investigate what type of bullying culture is present in the community so that they may know more ways to help.