By: Celia Carr
As many of you hopefully know, this past Wednesday, February 26th marked another “Pink Shirt Day”, where everyone is asked to wear pink in an attempt to raise awareness of bullying and how it is still a prominent issue for kids everywhere.
The event began in 2007 and was organized by David Shepherd and Travis Price of Berwick, Nova Scotia after a grade nine student at Central Kings Rural High School, Charles McNeill, was bullied and threatened for wearing a pink polo shirt on the first day of school. Upon hearing of the news, the two 12th grade boys decided to take action and distributed 50 pink shirts to other students at the school.
The two boys e-mailed their classmates in hopes of support from other students in what they wanted to be a “sea of pink” at their school. The message was well-received and dozens of students showed up the next day dressed head to toe in pink outfits. The bullies never bothered Charles again, and this seemingly small work of activism created a huge wave of response. Pink Shirt Day is now celebrated on various dates around the world, usually on the last Wednesday of February or the second Thursday in September.
As someone who has been an active volunteer with the District School Board of Niagara for a number of years, as well as an employee at the Port Colborne Community Living, children are a huge part of my life and my goal is to be a positive influence in the life of every child I interact with. This includes making sure that the kids I work with feel safe in the environment they’re in as best as I can. Fortunately I have never worked in a situation where bullying has been severe, but it happens, even on as small of a scale as picking teams for a recess game of soccer. The children I work with are usually at the primary age, where in many cases they don’t understand that what they’re saying or doing is hurtful to one another, and therefore it’s vital that the consequences of bullying be understood at as early an age as possible.
I firmly believe that it’s the responsibility of parents and the schools to teach values that promote respect for one another, and that is why I was deeply disappointed in the local Catholic high school in my town, Port Colborne, over a tweet which suggested that the school need not participate in Pink Shirt Day as they are apparently “already bully free all-year.”
I tried to decide whether or not I was just being dramatic about something as simple as a silly blurb on a social media website, but the tweet did not sit right with me for the rest of that day, especially since I was volunteering that morning at a school where both students and staff were actively participating in Pink Shirt Day. Seeing as I had attended that high school in my grade nine year before opting to switch to the public high school, I can absolutely promise it was not a bully-free school. Unless things have dramatically changed since my friends who were there graduated, I find it difficult to believe that there is absolutely no bullying going on.
Even if they were able to convince me that not one student said a hurtful word to another, not an unwanted sexual remark made and not one student made to feel excluded from any type of situation, why would a school choose not to participate in a day that supports kids everywhere and promotes the idea standing up for one another and to treat each other kindly? The school later tweeted that they are committed to anti-bullying and that they will have “in-school” bullying-related assemblies and activities. The question then becomes that if a school is so committed to anti-bullying, why would administration choose not to participate when most schools in the area were, and when the decision to participate was up to each individual school and not the board overall?
As bold as it may be to say, one of the reasons bullying persists is the lack of action on the part of the people in charge. While hard evidence cannot be provided to prove that any school staff willingly ignores bullying that happens within their school, I do not feel wrong in saying that it happens more often than we might like to acknowledge. I am absolutely in no way trying to suggest that this is a trait of all administration as that is far from the truth. I grew up having some amazing teachers who had the interest of the student at the forefront of their priorities at all times. I know this because as I am still a volunteer at my old elementary school, I have had the opportunity to work alongside many of the same teachers, and their devotion to the kids has not changed. But it does happen, especially in an age where social media reigns over the lives of youth in North America and cyber-bullying is as easy as pressing a button.
Teachers may choose to ignore bullying for a number of reasons, including the fact that it is more responsibility added to their already busy plate, especially since bullying that happens outside school hours still has to be addressed by the faculty of the school that the students attend. In this situation, it seems there is a lack of willingness to confront bullying as a whole, even if it is not a serious issue within the school. To say a school doesn’t have a bullying problem is completely absurd. If those in charge of a school are unconcerned with confronting the issue of bullying, will that attitude not perpetuate itself onto its students? Additionally, high school students are supposed to be positive influences to the elementary aged students who will one day be making choices of which high school to attend. I assume that parents would want to send their children to a school that is aware of bullying at its smallest form and would show that it has zero tolerance for bullying.
Statistics show that approximately 100,000 students drop out of school each year, and roughly 160,000 stay home each day, both as a result of bullying. As well, more than four out of 10 students fear going into a restroom because of bullying. Again, these numbers do not include the amount of students who are too afraid to say anything at all. Maybe that’s where your bullying issue is. Unheard because the students who ARE bullied are too afraid to go to school. Do schools follow up on all the students who drop out to stop and ask why, and consider that there’s a chance it’s a result of either physical or social bullying? I understand that it’s just another day, and there should be absolutely zero tolerance towards bullying every day, but if your reason for not participating in a day focused specifically on combating bullying is because it apparently is not an issue at your school, I believe that to be a very narrow and shallow take on what the day is all about.
Most people I know have been bullied in some way, whether they were very young or even now by an employer or coworkers. We all know what it’s like to have been hurt by someone who purposely wanted to make us feel bad. It’s a huge issue that exists in society among both children and adults, and I for one do not take the stance of, “well I’m not being bullied so I don’t need to worry about it if anyone else is.” I would hope that schools would take the same stance on supporting children everywhere who face being bullied every day.