Connor Barr is committed to stamping out bullying at his high school.
After getting tired of seeing his fellow students harassed in hallways or insulted on social media sites, the Grade 12 Lockerby Composite School student set up an anti-bullying committee at his school last year.
“Basically we know that in order to really stop it, we have to make it seem cool and interesting to stand up for people,” he said.
“Therefore what we did is in every grade we took a group of 10 student leaders and we taught them the strategies to really help with bullying and address it in different scenarios.”
For example, if a student gives a wrong answer in class and “someone makes it their goal to make fun of that incorrect answer,” the student leader will pull that person aside and explain why their behaviour was inappropriate, Barr said.
“You wouldn't have to do it in front of everyone,” he said. “You just talk to that one person individually, and say maybe next time you shouldn't make it so obvious they have a wrong answer.”
The issue of bullying was front and centre Sept. 13 when students and staff at all schools run by the Rainbow District School Board were encouraged to wear pink during Stand Up Against Bullying Day.
The awareness day began in Nova Scotia when high school students Travis Price and David Shepherd arranged for their classmates to wear pink shirts in support of another student, who had been bullied for wearing pink.
“I think (the awareness day's) value is in recognizing that we need to stand up against bullying and ensure this day is happening right at the beginning of the school year, especially when we have young Grade 9s entering our school,” Lockerby's principal, Heather Gaffney, said.
Similarly, the anti-bullying committee's work shows younger students that participating in bullying is unacceptable and standing up for others is the right thing to do, she said.
Barr said he was bullied on several occasions as a youngster. As a Grade 5 student at MacLeod Public School, he was standing outside the school one day, and was approached by a high school student.
“I guess he thought it would be funny to intimidate me in front of some of his friends,” Barr said. “It really did scare me. He grabbed my collar and almost shoved me to the ground and told me to go pick up his garbage that he'd dropped.”
He said he knew he had to act when he saw students at his high school having similar experiences. In one instance, a group of senior students approached a Grade 10 student and threatened him about something “that really wasn't their business.”
“They were suspended, but I bet for the rest of the year, once those students returned, that Grade 10 student felt terrible, and was scared and intimidated.”
While these anecdotes illustrate an overt type of bullying, Barr said cyber bullying is more insidious, and much harder to stop. Cyber bullying can include unkind comments or unflattering photos posted on Facebook or threatening text messages, he said.
“I think that's one of the biggest problems, because kids don't necessarily identify it as bullying,” Barr said.
“They grow up with instructional videos about bullying, and it's always walking down the hall and knocking books out of kids' hands and shoving them to the ground.
“But we have all evolved, and now bullying has evolved, too. It's not that same completely obvious type of bullying. It's more discreet - it's through the cyber network.”
Gaffney said she's also seen a change in how bullies operate.
“Back in my day, those opportunities to send somebody a text or get involved with social networking didn't happen,” she said.
“So I'm not sure if it's decreased as opposed to changing its form. Now, unfortunately, students sometimes feel they're a little bit more protected because it's not face-to-face. It's being sent over some social networking site.”
Bullies do what they do either because they're having personal problems, and are trying to feel better about themselves by picking on someone else, or are seeking approval from their peer group, Barr said.
“They crave that attention and positive feedback, and they'll do whatever it takes to have friends.”
Rawlric Sumner, another member of the anti-bullying committee, said he was bullied constantly when he was younger for being short, overweight and did well in school.
“It really never had much of an impact on me,” the Grade 12 Lockerby student said.
“I was always a stubborn person, and very strong-willed. I just saw it as people jealous of things I had and they didn't. But I can understand how someone who maybe wasn't as stubborn could take it extremely negatively.”
He said he's intervened in instances of bullying a couple of times.
“When it happens, I do try to make an attempt to end what's going on,” Sumner said.
“I like that Lockerby as a school tries to crack down on bullying much better than a lot of other high schools do,” he said. “The fact that we take this initiative to have this pink day just really shows how committed our students are to squashing bullying in our school.”
Grade 11 student Cassandra Mazzuca, also a member of the anti-bullying committee, said she was bullied as a young child, but as she's gotten older, she's mostly just seen other people experience it.
She said that makes her mad.
“I hate seeing people or hearing about people who are getting harmed in all different kinds of ways, just because people are making fun of their hair or their looks or their personality,” she said.
“It's just something that's themselves, and they're expressing that. I think that's what Canada's all about... If you're getting punished for that, that's completely not who we are, and not human, I find.”