Recent assembly on bullying raises the question: Is bullying a pressing issue at UAHS?

By Aly Gordon, ‘13

On Tuesday, Oct. 25, an auditorium full of students—many dreading yet another mundane lecture on bullying—were met by the tearful and heartfelt delivery of principal Kip Greenhill. His introductory speech chronicled his experience not necessarily as a bully or a victim, but as a witness of social exclusion. Though primarily dealing with online bullying, the assembly raised an important question: Is bullying an issue at UAHS?

According to social psychologist Marty Gooden, bullies are often those who have once been victimized and, in turn, wish to victimize others. In high school, though, he said that bullying is a common way to achieve a higher status in the school’s social hierarchy.

“Historically, bullying was thought to be…perpetrated mostly by boys towards their male peers,” said Gooden. “Today, however, there is greater appreciation for the different ways hostility can be perpetrated in subtle forms by both males and females.”

Gender differences aside, the effects of bullying—whether they be anxiety, depression or something else—are undeniable. Stop Bullying, a government website designed to help those affected by bullying, states that victims often perform poorly in school, develop health problems, or in some cases, resort to violence themselves. With the latter effect in mind, the website proposed a startling statistic: The aggressors in 12 of every 15 school shootings have a history of being bullied.

Next year’s principal and current assistant principal Emilie Greenwald said that bullying does occur at UAHS; however, only a handful of cases actually come to light. Greenwald noted that both Facebook and Twitter, as well as texting and hallway aggression—most of which were touched on during the assembly—are the most common means to which students bully their peers.

“We held the assembly not necessarily because of a certain incident, but rather to raise awareness about bullying,” Greenwald said. “Lately there has been a national focus on bullying; you see cases all the time in the news.”

Such cases, like that of Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old boy from Buffalo, New York, garner national attention when the ultimate consequence is suicide. According to ABC News, Rodemeyer was both cyberbullied and taunted in school, and his subsequent death preceded the National Bullying Awareness Summit, a fact which furthered the story’s attention by the media.

Although the media draws attention to the issue, its impact is indirect—the media cannot physically be present in schools. Administrators like Greenwald, however, work to build direct relationships with students that encourage open communication.

“We really try to uphold an approachable rapport with students,” Greenwald said. “We hope that the high school will ultimately have a culture where bullying is not socially acceptable.”

This culture, in the opinion of sophomore Summer Aleshire—a victim of both cyber and verbal bullying—does not exist. Her experience, like that of many other students, can be characterized by fighting amongst friends and subsequent rumors, resulting not only in social withdrawal, but a sense of despondency as well. According to Alshire, school-wide prevention efforts are in vain; students will continue to bully, regardless of adult intervention.

“[Bullying] usually goes on under the radar and behind people’s backs,” Alshire said. “When it does come to light, though, it gets dismissed. I feel like [authority figures] don’t really have an impact because [high school students] can be stupid sometimes; we just do what we want.”

Her struggle with bullying demonstrates the sometimes hidden nature of bullying: It certainly transpires, but without the knowing of many students and adults. Greenwald’s aforesaid goal—a culture of camaraderie in which bullying is socially unacceptable—is, in the opinion of Alshire, impossible until other students speak up.

“I personally would stand up for victims of bullying, just because I’ve experienced it myself,” Alshire said. “I don’t think many others would [do the same], though, just because they’re too scared of being bullied as a result.”