This past weekend, I was enraged by a series of discouraging responses to Mikaela Foster’s brilliant and mature piece on bullying. I could not believe that anyone would respond to that article with anything but encouragement and support. The fact that these comments seemed to come from adults only made me angrier. I have avoided writing about bullying because it seems to be so excellently covered by the younger writers on this site. However, this week I cannot stop thinking about the fact that adults are responding to their outcries with negativity, that administrators are ignoring their feelings and that yet another troubled kid has shot up a high school.
I was in sixth grade when the Columbine High School shooting occurred. I remember sitting in class the following day and planning my exit strategies from each classroom. Instead of listening to my teachers, I was contemplating how to most effectively turn my desk into a shield. My safe simple world grew dark and scary in an instant. In the following weeks my middle-school was evacuated three times due to bomb threats. While all false, they were still scary. Then one day word spread that a kid in my grade was bragging about having access to a gun and knowing how to use it. The boy in question had asked me out a few times, I had refused him and he had said some pretty hateful things to me throughout the year. When I heard of his gun rant, I was instantly terrified, as were a lot of kids. There was a long line at the payphone. We wanted out. Then the bell rang and despite our protests, the principal forcefully sent us back to class. We were children, we were scared and we were told our fear didn’t matter.
I went to class holding back tears. When I explained to my teacher what was happening, she marched me directly to the payphone and handed me a quarter. She was a mom and said if her kid were scared she would want him to be able to call her. I called my mom and she came to get me, but not before I was forced to have a sit-down with the principal. He was mad that I had gone against his rules of imprisonment and forced me to explain myself. I did so expecting to be met with sympathy and action. Instead, a grown man in a position of power looked into the eyes of a tearful 11-year-old girl and said that she was overreacting and he wasn’t going to do anything without proof. My mother kept me from school the rest of the week and after finishing up the year, I went willingly to private school in the fall.
I was fortunate enough that my bully’s threats of violence were empty and that when the institution failed me my family was able to send me elsewhere. However, not every child has these luxuries. Not every kid has parents willing or able to intervene on their behalf. School administrators need to do better. How many kids need to die before complaints of bullying or violence are taken seriously? Out of a thousand kids threatening violence, there is one who actually shoots up a cafeteria. Out of a thousand girls called sluts and whores, there is one who is so mercilessly bullied that she sees no way out other than death. Out of a thousand kids with “fag” written on their locker, there is a boy who has grown to hate his existence so much that he ends it. How sure are you that the bullying case in your school isn’t one of these? How sure are you that those threats are empty? Is that a risk you are willing to take? It shouldn’t be. Kids should not have to die in order for their feelings to be taken seriously. Your job is to protect them and provide them a safe environment in which to learn. If you don’t stand up for them, you are failing them.
As for the rest of us, we are all so quick to blame society for all of our problems, but as members of this society we sit back and watch the cycle of abuse continue without doing anything to change it. We need to encourage kids like Mikaela Foster and Ruby Karp to stand up for what they feel is wrong instead of saying, “That’s just how the world is.” That attitude is exactly why these things keep happening and why hate keeps flourishing. We are the adults, we need to set an example and we need to do better.
Feature image via prevent7.org