University of Montevallo Bullying Forum
April 03, 2013
On Wednesday, March 27, 2013, the David Mathews Center for Civic Life convened an Alabama Issues Forum on bullying at Comer Auditorium on University of Montevallo’s campus. The forum featured guest speaker Jamie Nabozny, a former bullying victim whose story is documented in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s film Bullied. Approximately 60 Montevallo students and faculty members attended the forum.
Dr. Laurel Hitchcock, Director of the University of Montevallo Social Work Department, welcomed the group, and a representative from the campus organization Spectrum briefly discussed LGBT bullying issues and existing programs at University of Montevallo. Following the opening remarks, Chris McCauley, DMC Executive Director, discussed the Mathews Center and provided an overview of public deliberation. The participants then reviewed the issue book entitled, “Bullying: What is it? How do we prevent it?” and Jamie Nabozny responded to a personal stake question focused on the impact bullying has on communities. He shared his personal story of being bullied and brutally beaten for being gay and encouraged other forum participants to share their personal stories.
Forum participants shared stories and transitioned into deliberation on the three approaches outlined in the issue book. The first approach, “Get Tough on Bullying”, was considered an ineffective approach by many of the attendees. Several of the students had first-hand experience with zero-tolerance policies while in middle and high school, and they believed that such policies were unsuccessful. According to some of the students, the bully and the victim were both punished in most situations due to lack of evidence. Other students discussed the fear of retaliation after reporting bullying behavior. Participants also discussed constructive aspects of approach one. For example, forum attendees believe that tougher consequences require teachers and administrators to create a safe school environment, while reinforcing a system of punishment that works to eliminate bullying altogether.
The second approach, “Equip Students to Address Bullying,” focuses on giving students more power to combat bullying. Many participants liked the idea of peer counseling because it gives students a relatable person to confide in. Action ideas related to equipping students to stop bullying included leadership workshops, implementing peer counseling or mediating, and raising awareness in elementary school. However, forum participants also identified several consequences of this approach. Two questions that were posed during deliberation on approach two included: “How far does the school reach?” and “Where do the students stop and the community begin in addressing the bullying issue?” Students also mentioned instances of administrators telling bullying victims to work it out on their own. According to one forum participant, this can lead to students feeling powerless in certain situations.
The final approach, “Engage the Community and Parents in Bullying Solutions,” received significant support from the group. Participants noted that parents play a major role in the upbringing of their kids – whether positive or negative – so connecting with parents is vital. While deliberating on approach three, one participant suggested implementing criminal punishments for those who assault other students at school, not just on the streets. The group also discussed various organizations such as churches, youth athletic programs, and surrounding universities that can help raise awareness and stop bullying when it occurs. College students and faculty members ended the forum by discussing the development of a mentor program between university students and elementary, middle, and high school students.
Common ground emerged throughout the forum experience. The students and other attendees agreed that no one person can stop bullying by themselves. Educating citizens and students about bullying is vital.
Many thanks to Dr. Laurel Hitchcock for convening the forum! “Thank you” as well to Jamie Nabozny for sharing his personal story with forum participants.
– Madeline Mechum (Jean O’Connor-Snyder Intern) & Chris McCauley (DMC Executive Director)