Bullying Statistics and Stories

November 14, 2013

Noah Schuettge is a recent transplant to Birmingham, Alabama and is serving as an AmeriCorps member in the Social Justice department at the YWCA Central Alabama.
 
October was National Bullying Prevention month; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LBGT) History month and Domestic Violence Awareness month. While the intention of my blog post is to write about bullying, it is impossible to disregard October’s other two purposes as they are inherently connected to our country’s bullying epidemic. While bullying can be, and often is, a problem for any student in middle and high school it is hard not to recognize the anecdotal and statistical trends along lines of sexual orientation, gender and race. 
 
According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey results published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 High School students have seriously considered suicide, while 1 in 12 have attempted it. The rate of considering suicide is highest among Hispanic females and lowest among white males, while self-identified LGBT teens are five times more likely than straight teens to attempt it, according to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Mainstream media’s coverage of such staggering statistics often glosses over the issues of race, gender or sexual orientation or scrambles to find a scapegoat such as a new medication on the market. While these statistics are indicative of a larger issue, they are impersonal and tell us the results not the causes. The students themselves know the causes if we are willing to listen.
 
My recent experiences facilitating Heritage Panel trainings, the two-day launch to the YWCA’s social justice program, in schools around the Birmingham area has been truly edifying.   Story after story attests to rampant bullying in schools based on every –ism or difference imaginable and the close, anecdotal link between bullying, discrimination, self harm and suicide.  In a culture (especially in middle and high schools) which tends to reward uniformity in favor of uniqueness, differences can literally mean death.  Heritage Panel encourages safe spaces for students to speak – about bullying and discrimination – while celebrating and empowering those differences which set us apart. 
 
Obviously, this is easier written in a blog post than done. For me, making the effort to listen and learn from those underrepresented and undermined in this country is the first step, while continuing to listen and learn can be difficult. What these students have to say is hardly ever easy to hear, and are often harsh realities entrenched in a nuanced and multi-generational system of favoritism based on societal norms and expectations. I am left with the familiar feeling of “what can I do?” I am neither a trained counselor nor an expert in bullying and suicide, but creating the space for a room full of students to listen and share makes the difference to them.
 
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