Letter to the editor: Bystanders essential for bullying prevention

Dr. Sue Skinner, Senior High Principal

I am writing this in response to the opinion piece “Prevention is not a cure for bullying” published on 10/22/2012 in the Knight Errant. I disagree with the author’s premise and would like to respond with my own thoughts. First, I am glad to know that the author has heard an anti-bullying message once a year since grade school. The anti-bullying message is not something to be shared once; it is something that needs to be addressed in many different forms over a period of time. Secondly, yes, Coloroso’s talk focused more on the role of the bystander as opposed to the target. This was intentional. It is short-sighted to assume that a target (or as the opinion piece author writes, “the victim”) simply needs to buck up and stop the bullying him or herself. A target can feel embarrassed, powerless and ultimately confused as to how to respond or react to the bullying. It is not so simple, nor even necessarily appropriate to “prove them wrong….and shove it in their face” as the author suggests.

The opinion piece author makes reference to me. He wrote, “When Dr. Skinner wants the Sue chant to stop, she stops it.” Again, it was not so simple. Let me explain: There was a tradition among some students to chant “suuuuue” whenever I would be at the podium to address the student body. It happened on a regular basis last year and to some extent in previous years. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t say anything to stop it until this year. Why not? First, I didn’t really think the students meant it to be mean or disrespectful. But I have to admit, I wasn’t sure. Second, I wasn’t sure how to stop it. Simply scolding students from the podium could easily backfire on me and the “suuuuue” could get louder and louder. Third, I didn’t want to seem like a poor sport. Can’t I just laugh and take it as a compliment? After all, isn’t it just harmless fun? The reality is that it was embarrassing. So here I was, a 48-year-old confident woman in a position of perceived power, and I was unable to stop a behavior that made me feel embarrassed and disrespected. It was only when “bystanders” spoke up (my colleagues) that I felt empowered to stop it. The bystanders, my colleagues, acknowledged my feelings and strategized with me on how to stop the chanting. I did not stop it on my own. I needed help.

I realize that the “Sue” chant is not nearly as disrespectful and mean as the bullying that happens on a regular basis. I only bring it up to illustrate my point that the role of the bystander is important and can make a difference. The opinion piece author writes, “I don’t really care if someone calls you stupid, fat or unathletic…” I have to admit, I don’t buy it. I think the author does care, and I think the BSM student body cares. I write this to support those who are bullied and are unable to stop it on their own. I write this in support of those who have the courage to step in and say something when they see or hear bullying. I write this in support of those who have suffered in silence long enough. I write this in support of the BSM community belief that each person is valued, loved and respected – period.