Local panelists, documentary video tackle bullying
NORMAL, Apr 11, 2012 (The Pantagraph - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Bullying is a very personal issue for Barb Dallinger, associate director of the Bone Student Center/Braden Auditorium at Illinois State University, and that is why she moderated a panel discussion on the topic Tuesday at the Normal Theater.
As a student at ISU, she was the "dorm mom" to her fellow students, "the one most likely to be there, holding your hair" when someone was sick, she said. Then one day she was jumped by six women, tied up, gagged and trapped in her room. Someone put a sign on the door saying "one of her gay friends will let her out."
It was a shattering experience, she said.
"I didn't tell anybody because back then you just didn't," she said.
Dallinger and the panelists stressed a theme that also ran through a video shown before the discussion: Bullying thrives when people do nothing, so everyone has a role in stopping it. About 100 people gathered to watch a PBS documentary and hear from high school and college students, teachers, university officials and members of the Twin City human relations commissions.
"Not in Our Town: Class Actions" told the story of how people mobilized to combat a racially controversial chant at University of Mississippi football games, anti-Semitic vandalism in Bloomington, Ind., and bullying at schools in Lancaster, Calif.
Normal Community High School student Avani Thakker described a successful effort by students at her school to fight the spreading of rumors and hateful comments on social media. "Cyberbullying will be there forever, but the closer-knit we get, the better chance we have to fight it," she said.
Rick Lewis, associate dean of students at ISU, said bullying also flourishes when people "dehumanize" each other. He noted how people on the quad walk by each other, intent on cellphones and iPods and not acknowledging each other.
"Shake hands, give each other eye contact. Treat each other with dignity and respect," he said. "If people disconnect from iPhones and headphones, we'd have a better community."
ISU communication professor Cheri Simonds noted some positive developments in the field of education. The state of Illinois passed a law in 2004 mandating social/emotional learning in classrooms, and ISU just added a requirement that all education majors have training in SEL, which involves teaching listening, empathy and related skills.
"If we teach it from an early age, we teach everyone to live by The Golden Rule," she said.
Ultimately, people need to recognize that for whatever reason -- fear of differences, jealousy, the need to fit in with the crowd -- anyone can become a bully, the panelists said.
"I just have to say, 'No, I don't want to mistreat someone because I don't want to be mistreated,'" said John Elliot of the Bloomington Human Relations Commission.
More on bullying
* The McLean County Unit 5 school board is expected to hear a report about CyberBullyHotline, a service that allows victims and bystanders to anonymously report bullying by phone or online. The board will meet at 5 p.m. today at Normal Community High School.
* For more information about the PBS "Not in Our Town" series, go to: http://www.pbs.org/programs/not-in-our-town/
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