With the growth in popularity of online social networking and text messaging, cyberbullying has become an area of concern in middle and high schools.
“Today, bullying doesn’t even end at the school bell,” President Obama said during the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. “It can follow our children from the hallways to their cell phones, to their computer screens.”
The President acknowledged the tragic suicides of 11-year-olds Ty Fields and Carl Walker-Hoover, both of whom dealt with years of bullying.
The President went on to call adults and young adults to provide safety and support for victims of cyberbullying.
“We’ve got to make sure our young people know that if they’re in trouble, there are caring adults who can help and young adults that can help,” Obama said. “We also have to make sure we’re doing everything we can so that no child is in that position in the first place. And this is a responsibility we all share - a responsibility we have to teach all children the Golden Rule: We should treat others the way we want to be treated.”
The White House’s Anti-Bullying campaign was launched with a corresponding Website: www.stopbullying.gov. MTV is also working with the campaign to prevent cyberbullying. They will be airing an original TV-Movie based on the true story of a cyberbullying victim.
Many Whitworth students fulfill the President’s calling through volunteering as Young Life leaders at Spokane high schools. They report cyberbullying is an issue among the youth they work with.
“Kids these days lead multiple lives,” said Jack Dunbar, Whitworth sophomore and Young Life leader at Gonzaga Prep. “They have one life at home, one at school and online they can be whoever they want to be.”
Dunbar described an incident earlier this year when one Young Life girl was dealing with being cyberbullied. Dunbar said it was so severe that she didn’t want to go to school or Young Life anymore.
“It all came out on Facebook because it’s safe there,” Dunbar said. “If you say it to someone’s face you could get punched or caught. I think the idea is that online you can’t get caught, there’s no supervision, no consequences.”
Janelle Thayer, Whitworth’s counseling director, pointed to the level of accessibility that modern communication technology provides.
“With online communication and texting, you have a clean shot at somebody, “ Thayer said.
Few cyberbullying issues are reported among Whitworth students. Dick Mandeville, associate dean of students, estimates only a couple incidents have been reported to his office in the last three to four years.
Mandeville pointed to the Whitworth Student Handbook, saying any cyberbullying is a violation of the third Big Three: “There is to be no violent or destructive behavior or other conduct that threatens or endangers the safety or emotional well-being of any other person on campus or of one’s self.”
Whitworth also has a campus-wide computer policy. Section XI Appropriate Use of Technology states: “Inappropriate uses of this technology include behaviors that...are offensive, threatening or harassing in nature: (among those that are considered offensive are any messages that contain sexual implications, racial slurs, gender-specific comments, or any other comment that offensively addresses someone's age, sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs, national origin or disability)”
Students can prevent cyberbullying by allowing vulnerability, Thayer said.
“Bullies can’t stand letting people in on their lives, and when they see other people doing that, they target that person’s vulnerability,” Thayer said.
Mandeville said he thinks the trajectory of society is moving toward becoming less civil than we already are.
“The model of discourse on network television is to obliterate your opponent’s position,” Mandeville said. “But the most powerful group for change on campus is a student peer group.”
Mandeville encourages students to mimic the Biblical ideal. He said he would rather see students confronting one another quietly before anything else.
“Identify and respond in a mature, adult, reconciling manner, rather than immediately going to an authority figure,” Mandeville said. However, he added that a student should go to an Resident Assistant, Resident Director or faculty advisor if they feel intimidated or threatened.