November 15, 2011

The Nation’s Third Oldest College Newspaper

Volume 82, Issue 5

Student bullying: A dangerous act

by John M. Curtin

 Patricia Wrobel, assistant dean for external relations greets William D. Berard, III, to the event on Nov. 1.  (photo courtesy of John Cutin)

Patricia Wrobel, assistant dean for external relations greets William D. Berard, III, to the event on Nov. 1. (photo courtesy of John Cutin)

College students are definitely not immune to headaches. The pain usually comes during times of extreme stress and anxiety, such as exam time or those long nights of endless studying. However, when it comes to children, headaches are cause for concern.

When my daughter was 16, she got several concussions playing hockey and we had to bring her to a specialty clinic for headaches. The doctor, who was a national expert on headaches, explained that in children there are three causes of headaches. It's either because of something physical, a concussion, or because the child is being bullied, said William D. Berard, III, a local attorney and nationally recognized expert in public education law.

Nearly 100 people gathered in room 350 of Niagara University's Bisgrove Hall to listen to Berard as he spoke about bullying and cyberbullying on Nov. 1. An NU alumni himself, Berard graduated in 1982.

As he pointed out in the beginning of his presentation, bullying is when someone commits an intentional act that causes harm to one or more individuals. Bullying can be physical, emotional, and/or relational. Then there is cyberbullying “ a relatively new social concept within the past five years. Even the most recent word processing applications for computers, such as Microsoft Office 2010, don't recognize the term cyberbullying. This refers to the abuse over social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Skype, etc.

How much damage can one child do to another over the Internet?

It's a matter of reputation. Peer pressure can cause mental stress, failure in school, and motivation to hurt oneself. Even fatally can result from cyberbullying as shown with the tragic suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer of Williamsville, NY. Reputation and peer pressure have been parts of bullying way before it ever became cyber. Cyberbullying has the domino effect. All it takes is perhaps an embarrassing picture taken with a cell phone, or a post making fun of another individual. It becomes viral, and a lot of people can see it. The humiliation can be overwhelming, like in the case of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi from Rutgers University in Piscataway, NJ, who jumped from the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, 2010. What made him commit suicide? His roommate had video streamed Clementi kissing another man over the Internet without Clementi's knowledge.

It used to be so easy before all these social networks and computers, Berard said. The school only needed to be involved if the matter occurred on-campus. But with cyberbullying it's taken school involvement to a whole new level.

Berard explained that schools no longer have the luxury of staying within the confines of their property lines. Cyberbullying can be initiated while the bully or victim is in or outside of school. However, in both cases the victim suffers from the social humiliation while in school, which makes it the school's problem.

The law states the a child has the right to a safe and secure environment in which to learn without interference, Berard said. Bullying and cyberbullying violates that right, and that's where the law steps in.

There are numerous ways a child can suffer from bullying. In an effort by educators and school administrators to sort them out and deal with each one appropriately, a set of guidelines had to be created. The Dignity for All Students Act is an example of recently approved state legislation that will be effective as of July 2012. According to the New York State Education Department's website, the dignity act makes bullying illegal, bringing harsher consequences to bullies and to schools that don't respond to bullying. Specifically, it outlines a protected class of students covered under this law who are of different national origins, ethnic groups, religions, races, weights, religious practices, mental or physical abilities, sexual orientations, gender identity or expression, and sexes. Boards of Education are now required to put text of the law in their code of conduct. Also, a bully specialist will be assigned to each school district.

Does bullying change after high school? According to Berard, it does not. Often, it carries on to college, and occurs especially in dorms. The term bullying disappears after age 18. It then is labeled as harassment, assault and a variety of other legal terms.

Not everyone is comfortable going to a place, such as a police station or a campus safety office to report bullying. At Niagara University, there are other resources available by the student affairs office, the free counseling offered in the basement of O'Shea hall and Diversity Advocates. No one deserves to suffer through bullying “ no matter what it's called.

Information on legislation can be found online at: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/dignityact.

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