Six months ago I read about a cheerful, vivacious, ten-year-old girl, Ashlynn Connor, an honor roll student and a cheerleader, who dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. However, one year ago, Ashlynn’s dreams came to an abrupt end. One year ago, Ashlynn’s sister found her dead, hanging from a scarf in her bedroom closet. One year ago, Ashlynn Conner committed suicide. This ten-year-old girl felt so desperate, so alone, so hopeless, that she took her own life. Ashlynn Conner killed herself because she was bullied.
Her classmates called her ‘whore’, ‘slut’, and ‘fat ass’ every day. Every day she was rejected, humiliated, and harassed by her classmates. And sadly, no one stopped it. Her friends didn’t stop it, her teacher didn’t stop it, no one stopped it, so Ashlynn stopped it the only way she knew how. This is just one instance of a pervasive problem. Every year, ten million students in the United States are bullied; 2 million are cyber bullied, 3. 5 million are physically bullied, and 4. 5 million are verbally bullied.
Beyond the immediate effects of sadness and hurt, many victims hurt themselves, drop out of school, act violently, get involved with drugs, commit suicide, and develop depression. And this doesn’t just affect a few of us; it affects all of us. All of us have friends, or cousins, or nephews, or nieces, or brothers, or sisters, or kids who will one day attend, or who currently attend school. With the prevalence of bullying, there is a very high chance that someone you care about will encounter a bully, that someone you care about will be bullied, and that someone you care about will get hurt.
Take a moment to imagine what it would be like. Imagine what it would be like for someone you loved to be laughed at, pushed around, to have her head shoved into a locker, to be ignored by her peers, to find a note in her desk with the word ‘loser’ written on it. Imagine how upset you would be. It is our responsibility, as students and as human beings, to help these kids. When Ashlynn was bullied, nobody stood up for her. She went to her teachers for help; they told her to stop tattling.
She went to her friends for help; they told her they were too scared to help. This is very common. Teachers often overlook bullying, ignore bullying, or respond to bullying ineffectively, while students, on the other hand, allow bullying to continue because they are afraid of becoming targets themselves, or because they think someone else will intervene, or because they don’t know any better. Teachers and students rarely intervene when it comes to bullying. According to national anti-bullying organizations, only 15 % of bullying incidents are intervened in. 5%. In school, 15% is an F, a failure. And that’s what this is; this is a failure. Teachers and fellow students are failing to stand up for the bullied. Our society is failing to stand up for the bullied. Ten million kids are bullied every year, and nobody is standing up for them. It is evident that we cannot leave things as they are. Millions of kids are being bullied, and nobody is stopping it. We must encourage teachers and students to step in and speak up.
We must educate them about the costs of bullying, and teach them how to stop it. We must take action. Fortunately, two organizations, Champions Against Bullying and Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center are taking action. Each organization has a unique approach. Champions Against Bullying offers in person workshops for students and schoolteachers where they learn what bullying is, what its costs are, how to prevent it, and how to stop it when it does occur. Pacer’s takes a different approach.
It provides online resources such as toolkits, action plans, and learning games that teachers use to educate their students. YOU can increase the influence of each of these organizations. You can tell your friends, tell your family, and tell your local schoolteachers. You can donate or volunteer by going to championsagainstbullying. com or www. pacer. org/bullying. If we do this, we will strengthen the anti-bullying movement. If we do this, we can look forward to a future where people do not tolerate any form of bullying, and kids are accepted for who they are.
Once it was acceptable to use the word homo, to use the word fag, to use the word retard, to use the word Jap, to have segregated schools, segregated housing, to smoke at work, to not wear seat belts. These things are no longer acceptable because people, people like us, decided they are unacceptable. And if we work hard enough, we can make bullying unacceptable too. Ashlynn dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. I think Ashlynn’s had another dream, a dream of a future in which she wasn’t bullied, a dream of a time when bullying was no longer tolerated.
We can help Ashlynn’s other dream come true. We can make bullying unacceptable. I look forward to a future where EVERYONE will be treated graciously. I look forward to a future where kids like Ashlynn will not have to die in order to stop being bullied. I look forward to a future where people will stand up for those put down. I want a future in which my children are not at risk of being bullied, a future in which your children are not at risk of being bullied. We can make Ashlynn’s other dream come true. (pause) If we want to.