Bullying, and stepping up to combat it

Illustration by Vicente Capala

It’s Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, and, yes, bullying can be a problem in college too.

Actually, it’s a problem in every stage of life. There are bullies in grade school all the way up to our inevitable tenure in a nursing home. They make life miserable for those they choose to hurt.

That misery can lead to terrible things, such as suicide.

It can be hard to muster the strength to do something about it, whether that something is telling the person to leave you alone or seeking outside help if you worry about retaliation.

Jennifer Livingston, Wisconsin news anchor, bravely did just that, hoping to inspire her children, as well as the children of those who watch her in the morning, to take a stand as well.

Livingston was sent an email earlier this month (ironic, considering what this month is) that explained that the writer, Kenneth Krause, was shocked that her “physical condition” hadn’t improved in several years. He expressed hopes she doesn’t consider herself a positive role model for young people — “girls in particular,” he said. He ended the letter stating that he hoped she’d “reconsider” her “responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”

While Livingston tried to brush it off, her husband, another anchor for the news station, posted the letter to his Facebook wall. Hundreds of people responded in support of Livingston, inspiring her to speak on air about the email and turn the experience into something positive.

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Taking time out of the show to do so, Livingston spent a little over four minutes telling Krause (without mentioning his name) that because he didn’t regularly watch the show and he didn’t know her personally, what he said didn’t matter to her. She thanked those that had been supportive of her online and turned the talk towards bullying in general.

Livingston chose to publicly speak about the incident because she has three daughters, and the thought of them being bullied bothers her as well.

“The Internet has become a weapon, our schools have become a battleground, and this behavior is learned,” said Livingston.

She explained this claim by stating that if someone’s child heard them talking about the “fat news lady,” they would be more likely to go to school and call someone fat as well. She continued, stating that parents need to teach their children to be kind, not critical, to others.

Some people disagree that Livingston was bullied, because the incident was isolated, but we live in a time when suicide among children is on the rise, her stance against bullying is needed.

In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 4,599 children and adults ages 10 to 24 committed suicide (though not all due to bullying), making it the third leading cause of death in that age group for that year. Since then, there has appeared to be an increase of media attention toward suicide in that age group — especially those that occur in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, where people such as Matthew Sheppard, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Raymond Chase and many others were bullied so much they’d rather die than continue living.

That is a lot of pain. And no person should have to endure it.

Back in Michigan, there was a game the kids in my fifth grade class played where they tried to make me cry. I was called terrible names and shoved. Once on the school bus I was slapped across the face by an eighth grader just because of where I sat. Another time, I had three eighth graders sitting on me and holding my mouth shut so I couldn’t ask for help.

I was an easy target, and they fed on that.

By the time I was in the sixth grade, I was already seriously thinking about killing myself. One day, about halfway through the year, I was staring out the second story window of my classroom at the sidewalk below wondering if it would work, when one of my very few friends took my hand and pulled my downstairs to one of our school counselor’s office and said to me, “I know that look. She helped me. She’ll make you feel better too.”

I will never forget the years of counseling that sprang from that day or how grateful I am to that one little boy for grabbing my hand and getting me help. The bullying continued, but I grew a thicker skin. Now I’m a full-grown adult doing more with my life than any of those bullies are.

I am in a wonderful relationship with an amazing man with lots of friends who’ll stick their necks out for me just as much as I’ll stick mine out for them. I am happier than I have ever been.

To those who are or have been bullied, no matter how old you are: It gets better. Trust someone who has been in your shoes. There is a happy ending, and it is spectacular.

To those of you who bully others: Stop. Not everyone has the support system I had. And not everyone is as brave as Jennifer Livingston to take control of the situation and turn it around. Why do you do it? What in your life are you trying to make up for by putting someone else down so terribly?

It seems to me that the people you hurt aren’t the only ones who need help, so I urge you, talk to someone. Find out why you have the need to hurt and control others and work to fix it. Chances are, it’s because you were the victim at some point too, and your pain isn’t something to be taken lightly either.

For those being bullied on campus or are having thoughts of suicide, the Student Health and Counseling Center has some wonderful counselors who are more than willing to talk you through what’s happening. They are here to help, and their number is 907-786-4040.