Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students/ABUSIVE BUREAUCRAT BULLY!
When I was at Siena College near Albany, New York, I complained to administration members that a fellow student, who was a Resident Assistant, assaulted me. After speaking to college staff, I ended up at the Dean's Office in front of one Jeanne Obermeyer, who defended the bully and let me know that if I went to the police I would have to deal with her too. Jeanne Obermeyer falsely told me there is no such thing as "harassment" unless it is tied to the Civil Rights Act, such as race and gender. I told Jeanne Obermeyer she is ABUSIVE, and she made me apologize to her for my reply to our meetings. Jeanne Obermeyer then told me she had no further use with me and terminated my complaints. Jeanne Obermeyer then would stare at me, make faces, and otherwise mock me for my grievances against bullies at Siena College.
While that unfair incident took place at Siena College in the Fall Semester of 1995, I still remember how stressful college is because there are NOT professional law enforcement services to protect oneself from harassment or bullying. At least in High School, one lives at home and has some protections in the community. However, when one attends college, the Administration is so concerned with their own interests that they do NOT allow for professional police departments that STOP harassment to STOP tragedies such as Virginia Tech and Columbine.
Jeanne Obermeyer SHOULD be ashamed of herself for allowing me to be assaulted by a fellow classmate at Siena College, but that would only be "in a perfect world". In the real world of college life, Jeanne Obermeyer is probably very proud of her terrible actions towards me. After all, she epitomized the whitewashing of harassment and tragedies to push forward an artificial agenda where "rules" were only enforced by fear, thuggery, harassment and bullying!
The news article, below, shows how many families are unable to deal with the dark side of college life. Siena College's Jeanne Obermeyer represents the terrible realities of these tragic issues that would otherwise be prevented and STOPPED if high schools and colleges had professional police departments that properly dealt with harassment and bullying!
In closing and for the record, Siena College's Jeanne Obermeyer is ABUSIVE! I retract my apology to this college bureaucrat. I state this so that society will change and innocent people will be protected by law and future tragedies will be prevented and STOPPED!
"Va. Tech Families Talking To Kaine: Advocates Pushing To Correct Report"
By Brigid Schulte, Washington Post Staff Writer, Saturday, November 22, 2008; B1
The families of the students killed in the Virginia Tech massacre as well as those who were injured and their families are meeting today and tomorrow with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to share new information that they say raises serious questions about what actually happened that April 16 morning and calls into question the university administration's initial response.
The information, gleaned from separate meetings in recent weeks between the families and Virginia Tech officials and later with law enforcement officials, including Virginia Tech campus police and Virginia State Police, was given to Kaine this week. Families are pushing Kaine to reconvene the panel he appointed in April 2007 to investigate the massacre and correct the report they issued the next August.
"It's just been unbelievable. The revelations of all sorts of things that have been found out just have all of our heads spinning," said Mike Pohle, whose son died in the attacks. "And it doesn't seem as though anybody really wants to be forthright and upfront about it."
Kaine said he had been reading about some of the revelations in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which has been combing through thousands of pages of university records obtained through a Freedom of Information request. But it wasn't until last Tuesday that he heard from families. He said he might be open to updating the panel report.
"The panel was all volunteers. I don't know that I could make them come back together to convene," Kaine said. "But if the families want to raise issues about inaccuracies, there may be other ways to correct it without calling the whole panel back."
The meetings with the university, law enforcement officials and Kaine were agreed to as part of the $11 million settlement that many of the Virginia Tech families signed this year with the state. The families agreed not to sue the university or the state in exchange for the meetings, a full account of what happened, insurance to cover medical treatment for the injured students and a monetary settlement.
Families will be pushing Kaine to again support legislation requiring background checks for all gun purchases, including private sales at gun shows. They also want assurances that budget cuts will not hurt the progress that has been made in improving the state's mental health system. "We made a big step forward in mental health funding and policy last year, and I don't want to jeopardize that," Kaine said.
But the families' biggest concern is finding out what actually happened that day.
One of the biggest discrepancies families have discovered is in the official timeline of events, as published in the panel report. In the report, the panel said university administrators "erred" in waiting two hours before informing students that a shooting had occurred on campus. Seung-Hui Cho shot his first two victims at 7:15 a.m. in the West Ambler Johnston Hall dormitory. The university sent an e-mail at 9:26 warning students that a "shooting incident" had occurred. About 9:40, Cho began his rampage in the Norris Hall classrooms, which left 25 students and five teachers dead.
University officials in hearings before the panel maintained that they had waited so long before issuing the warning because campus police had told them they had identified a "person of interest" -- the boyfriend of the first girl shot -- and were pursuing him.
But in the recent meetings, law enforcement officials told families that they identified the boyfriend not at 7:30, as they originally reported, but about 45 minutes later. Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger, in an emotional eight-hour meeting with families, told them he found out about police pursuing the boyfriend at 8:40, a full half-hour later than the time noted in the panel report, and that he had been initially told that the shooting was a domestic dispute.
The families say these time discrepancies could have made the difference between life and death and call into question the university's initial explanation for failing to notify students earlier. "They were basically sitting there, doing very little, and all the while you have an active shooter situation," Pohle said.
University spokesperson Larry Hincker said yesterday that Steger was speaking at the meeting from his recollection and that Hincker had not personally double-checked the timeline. "Fundamentally, the governor's panel report was intended to try to describe what happened. But more importantly, to inform any changes in public policy or operating practices," Hincker said. "In that regard, I think it has done that."
Lily Habtu, 23, who was shot in the jaw, wrist and head and who has a bullet lodged a millimeter from her brainstem, said all she wants is for someone to "own up" and admit they made a mistake when they didn't warn students earlier. "I was checking my e-mail and the university Web site from 6 a.m. until 8:50 a.m. It was such a cold day, I wanted to see if classes were going to be canceled," said Habtu, whose jaw was wired shut for three months. "I told President Steger, 'Believe me, if I had gotten any e-mail, I would have stayed home and so would a lot of other people.' But all he did was nod."
Although many families believe Steger has not apologized for waiting so long to warn people, Hincker maintains he has.
"We were asked several times by family members if we would do anything differently today," Hincker said in an e-mail. "On Sunday President Steger said, 'Given what we knew at the time, I think we acted properly.' When asked again if he would send out a notice earlier, he said, 'You're right. I would have sent a notice [earlier] but still be concerned about the accuracy of information. There is a trade-off in sending information.'"
Staff writer Anita Kumar contributed to this report.
"Teen with HIV was bullied, suit says"
The Boston Globe Online, November 22, 2008
INDIANAPOLIS - A school district in the state where HIV-positive Ryan White fought for the right to attend classes two decades ago is being sued by the family of a 14-year-old girl who says she was bullied so badly over her positive status that she left school.
The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday against Washington Township Schools in Indianapolis said the girl was subjected to name-calling and harassment at Westlane Middle School and that school officials did little to stop it.
In one instance, the lawsuit said, the girl's soccer coach asked her whether she had AIDS, then told her the team could use her HIV status to its advantage because "the other team will be afraid."
The girl, "on an almost daily basis, endured continuing harassment, teasing, name calling, and bullying by her fellow students," according to the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages. An attorney for the family declined to elaborate on the case.
Superintendent James Mervilde said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit but said the district prohibits bullying and harassment and has policies with specific precautions for cleaning up and handling bodily fluids.
The suit said the girl was found in 2006 to have the virus that causes AIDS. It does not specify how she contracted the virus. She confided her condition to a friend in March 2007, and the bullying began shortly thereafter as word spread.
The girl's mother met with school counselors in April 2007 to complain about the harassment, but officials took no action other than warning the students involved, the lawsuit said.
The girl withdrew from the school in September and is being home-schooled.
I get picked on to this day about being bullied and assaulted many times over at Siena College as if I am too blame for other peoples' terrible behaviors.
The last semester of my senior year at Siena College, my roommates decided to beat me up. So for about 2.5-months, I commuted from my parent's home in Becket, Massachusetts, to my classes at Siena College until I graduated cum laude. I felt the bureaucracy would have persecuted and made a mockery of me if I complained again about being abused. One of my closest Siena College professors, who was a Catholic Communitarian Sociology Professer labelled me a "coward" after I raised concerns about the institution's bureaucrats. However, I saw through his desire to make a career out of Siena above and beyond all things reasonable.
Siena College is a place where you have to fight a conservative, almost reactionary, cultural war in support of Catholicism. I was, am not, nor will I ever be, a Catholic. I do NOT believe in what the Catholic Church teaches, and any and all cultural conflicts are very dangerous.
Rather, I believe in a woman's right to choose; Siena College did NOT. I believe in birth control as a human right; Siena College did NOT. Moreover, Siena College did not even allow condums to be sold at their one school store! I believe in the rights of homosexuals to live freely with equality under the law. I support same sex marriages, too. However, Siena College did NOT.
I do NOT like Siena College and what it stands for: CULTURAL WAR against all who do not fall into their bigotted religious and communitarian doctrines!
Yes, "Emeritus", the bullies of Siena College, including the chief Siena College bureaucrat-bully, Jeanne Obermayer, saw to it that I would be assaulted over and over again, including in the last semester of my senior year (Spring 1997) where I was assaulted so badly I had to commute from my parents' then home in Becket to just outside of Albany for about 2.5-months until my graduation. Of course, there were dysfunctional breakdowns in Becket, too! Including my bullying, mean-spirited maternal Aunt "K", who I have been estranged from for over a decade now! My life was very scary back in the mid-1990s, most especially at the corrupt hands of the reactionary Catholic fascism that ruled Siena College. To some, it may be funny, but to others, it may be helpful. I stay away from Siena College for my own safety!
- Jonathan Melle
Sirdeaner Walker held a photo of her son, Carl, 11, who committed suicide April 6 after being bullied and harassed at school. (Stephen Rose for The Boston Globe)
"Constantly bullied, he ends his life at age 11: Mother vows to expose dangers of harassment"
By Milton J. Valencia, Boston Globe Staff, April 20, 2009
SPRINGFIELD - He was just 11 years old, and they called him gay. They said he acted like a girl and bullied him. Girls, boys - anyone, it seemed - taunted Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover until he could take it no more.
Less than two weeks before his 12th birthday, the bright boy beloved for his wide smile came home and hanged himself.
He left a note, saying he loved his mother and his aunt. He also left his Pokemon games and cards to his 6-year-old brother. On a Monday evening, as his mother was preparing dinner, she found him hanging from the railing of the third-floor landing, by an electrical cord.
His note did not say why, only that he was sorry for what he had done. But in a way only a mother could, Sirdeaner Walker had to explain the pressures her son faced.
"I know he would not have done this," Walker said, "unless he felt he did not have any other choice."
An 11-year-old committing suicide is tough to explain, especially to a mother. But Walker's newfound campaign to address schoolyard harassment since the death of her son on April 6 has exposed realities that national experts and academics are still trying to comprehend: bullying, youth suicide, and a community's responsibility to respond.
"There's so much more to this story," Walker, the director of a homeless program at a local social-service agency, said only days after she found her son dead. "Carl was a wonderful young man, and he had so much potential, and his potential is now gone."
Officials at the New Leadership Charter School acknowledged that the boy was bullied, but said they had responded appropriately and that the death was a tragedy no one could have foreseen.
"When we would see this (bullying), we would sit them down and tell them this is not an appropriate way to act," said Peter Daboul, chairman of the board of trustees at the charter school.
Since 2002, at least 15 schoolchildren, ages 11 to 14, have committed suicide in Massachusetts. They include a 13-year-old last year at the Gilmore Academy, a school for gifted students in Brockton. Three of them were Carl's age. But Walker won't let her son become just another statistic.
By all accounts, he was a promising sixth-grader, some say a scholar in-the-making who mixed football and basketball practice with mentorship and leadership programs. All along, he was the charismatic one in the class who would sing to Rihanna's "Umbrella" with the radio during a bus trip, or pose for the camera on a roller-blading adventure with a summer youth program.
"You knew he wanted to be somebody," said Clifford Flint, of the Black Men of Greater Springfield group, at the boy's funeral. Flint knew Carl through a mentorship program.
For Carl, the darkness began in September when he entered a new school, a process that can leave even the most secure of children unnerved and uncertain.
All was well, his mother said, until he met his new classmates and tried to make friends at New Leadership, a diverse Grade 6-12 school with just under 500 students. Walker enrolled her son at the charter school as an alternative to the local public middle school, thinking he would have better opportunities.
There, the troubles began. Students would bully Carl, say he was gay, make fun of his clothes. He complained of gangs and had to eat lunch with a guidance counselor numerous times to evade the harassment that was tearing at his young soul.
Walker did everything she could. She complained to teachers and administrators. She sat in one of Carl's classes, to get acquainted with the school. She joined the Parent-Teacher Organization and became head of the Sixth Grade group. She asked for help, saying no student, let alone her son, should be subject to such abuse.
The school staff knew about the harassment. Daboul, chairman of the board of trustees, said Carl met regularly with a psychologist to discuss his relationship with classmates, and students involved in bullying were disciplined. He defended the school's response, saying its anti-harassment policies go beyond what is required in Springfield schools. Among other things, the school issues a policy handbook on bullying to all students and makes them sign an agreement to treat each other with respect.
Daboul said the board of trustees has formed a committee to investigate the way the school responded, how staff worked with Carl, how staff disciplined and advised other students, and how administrators reacted to Walker's complaints. The committee's findings could help determine what went right, what did not, and ways the school and others can respond to such incidents in the future, Daboul said.
But he also stressed that the death was a tragedy, and that the suicide, and bullying, are an indication of a more sweeping problem.
Nationwide, suicide rates among 10- to 14-year-olds have grown more than 50 percent over the last three decades, according to the American Association of Suicidology, or the AAS. In 2005, the last year nationwide statistics were available, 270 children in that age group killed themselves. Suicide remains among the leading causes of death of children under 14. And in most cases, the young people die from hanging.
"Suicides go back to the biblical days. It's not a new phenomenon, even among kids," said Dr. Lanny Berman, head of the AAS. "Young people can, and do, die by suicide."
The struggle, Berman said, is to find the underlying cause, and ways to learn from such tragedies. Decades ago, family strife may have driven a youngster to commit suicide. Today, a teenager under constant harassment can feel stressed and depressed and begin acting out until the bullying is overwhelming.
"This is not simply teasing behavior," Berman said. "This has serious consequences, one of which we now know much more about."
The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center estimates that close to 30 percent of today's schoolchildren are either bullies or have been harassed by them. Boys are often beat up. Girls are the subject of rumors. Either way, the targets can feel tense, anxious, and afraid. Over time, they lose their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. They become withdrawn, and depressed.
In Carl's case, in the classroom "there was no one he felt he could turn to who could help him," said Eli Newberger, a pediatrician and faculty member at Harvard Medical School who has written about bullying and child development.
He said schools need to look at ways to not only prevent bullying, but also teach youngsters how to cope with harassment and how to empathize with others students.
"How to discern other people's individual rights, and to appreciate and respect them," he said.
One bill introduced to the state Legislature before Carl's suicide would require the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to set up a model curriculum for schools to follow on addressing bullying and teasing, which includes harassment over the telephone, computer, or other electronic device. School employees would have to undergo yearly training in identifying and responding to bullying, students would have to participate in surveys each year, and school districts would be required to set up antibullying policies approved by the state. Currently, districts can decide on their own policies, and the state is only required to provide resources.
Walker said she will file a complaint with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education about how New Leadership handled the incident. She believes the school could have done more to help her son, and she urges schools to learn from this tragedy "because I don't want anyone to have to bury their child like this."
"No one should have to do that," she said.
She had noticed Carl acting out, seeming disruptive, and having troubles at school. He would tell her, "I hate this school." They already had plans for him to attend a private academy. But until then, his mother asked, try to make it work.
That Monday, he was in another fight. A girl had yelled at him and threatened him after he accidentally bumped a TV at the school with his backpack, and the TV bumped into the girl. School staff intervened. The psychologist who had been seeing Carl tried to mediate, and told him and the girl that the three of them would have to sit together during lunch for the week.
Carl called his mother after school and told her of the fight.
At 6:28 p.m., she found him hanged.
Milton Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Bullied to death"
April 22, 2009
RELENTLESS BULLYING, including anti-gay slurs, by students at the New Leadership Charter School in Springfield pushed sixth-grader Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover to take his own life, according to his mother. The quality of interventions by school officials is unclear. But an act so desperate by one so young is a clear reminder of how schools can become torture chambers for students perceived as different.
Massachusetts led the nation in 1993 by crafting an anti-discrimination law for gay and lesbian students. But the law is only as effective as the educators who implement it. And the stakes can be higher in poor, urban districts like Springfield, where nonconformity too often draws aggressive attention. Teachers or administrators who ignore even a single degrading comment in that environment can open the door to a world of pain.
Any sentient school official knows that gay students, or those perceived to be gay, are teased and bullied disproportionately. One remedy is the use of student handbooks that outline the specific consequences of discriminating against gay students. At New Leadership, students in the middle and high school grades sign a Golden Rule contract pledging not to "laugh, tease or poke fun at others." But there is no specific mention in the student handbook of discrimination based on race, religion, or sexual orientation. The school's written anti-harassment policies need to reflect the reality that students who are different actually face.
Peter Daboul, chairman of the school's trustees, says being or appearing gay "is not a stigma at the school." And students in both the sixth and seventh grades, he says, were studying the effects of bullying this year as part of their class projects. A school task force, he says, will examine all incident reports involving Walker-Hoover. And an investigation by the state Department of Education is likely to follow.
There may be a role for independent investigators, as well. New Leadership, which operates in modular units, may be too large to ensure student safety. Enrollment at the decade-old charter school was originally capped at 375. But it was serving almost 500 students by last year, when it sought to renew its charter. Despite reservations about the school's fiscal and academic standing, the state overlooked the violation and approved raising the enrollment cap to 500.
A case such as this requires education officials to consider what policies and practices may have been overlooked. Focusing solely on bullies and victims is rarely enough. How can schools build a critical mass of students who are willing to come to the aid of a targeted student and stand against their peers? The family of a dead 11-year-old boy deserves to know.
April 21, 2009
Re: Bullying by design
I was bullied by an bureaucrat named Jeanne Obermayer at Siena College during the mid-1990s. Sometimes bullying is done by the designs of the authority figures and the immature students are just following orders for their own success. There is a dark side to school and college.
I was also viciously bullied by a former Massachusetts State Senator by the name of Andrea F Nuciforo II (aka "Luciforo), who has layered his harassment of me for nearly 13 years now.
I believe that bullying or harassment is done by the designs of "evil" people like Jeanne Obermayer and Andrea Nuciforo II who abuse their authoritative power for their own interests. The actors are on their stage. That is why I am happy that I may Blog so the real bullies can no longer hide behind their secrecy.
- Jonathan Melle
Congress - "Springfield mom testifies on bullying"
Posted by Foon Rhee, deputy national political editor, July 8, 2009
By Stephanie Vallejo, Boston Globe correspondent, 7/8/2009
WASHINGTON -- In the three months since Sirdeaner Walker’s 11-year-old son, Carl Walker-Hoover, committed suicide, the Springfield mother has channeled her grief into action. Walker appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to speak out on the dangers of bullying.
But that was just a warm-up.
Walker, once a self-described “ordinary working mom,” has become a persistent advocate for safer schools, and she’ll stop at nothing less than federal legislation. Appearing today before the House subcommittees on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and Healthy Families and Communities, Walker related Carl’s story once again.
“What could make a child his age despair so much that he would take his own life?” Walker asked during a panel on “Strengthening School Safety Through Prevention of Bullying.” “I will probably never know the answer. What we do know is that Carl was being bullied relentlessly at school.”
Walker had known for months of her son’s situation, and, so did the staff at the New Leadership Charter School in Springfield.
She was unhappy with their course of action, and attributes it to a lack of training. The last week of Carl’s life, he had been assigned to sit with his tormentors at lunch as part of a mediation process. “Obviously there needs to be some professional development and instruction, because that’s not a solution,” she said.
While school officials acknowledge they knew of the bullying, they say they handled the situation appropriately.
Walker supports a bill that would require states that receive grants for safe and drug-free schools to invest in bullying prevention programs. She plans to speak with staff in the offices of Massachusetts Senators John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy while in Washington.
“Everyone at the hearing listened to Carl’s story,” Walker said afterwards. “I really feel like now is the time that we look to the federal government for guidelines and leadership. Our children are suffering every day, in school.”
"Dozens 'lie down' at Capitol for Columbine event"
By CATHERINE TSAI, Associated Press Writer, April 20, 2009
DENVER (AP) -- Dozens of people participated in a "lie-down" at Colorado's state Capitol Monday to demand stricter gun control and mark the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings. A circle of 13 people representing those killed at Columbine reclined on their backs before the west steps of the Capitol. They had wrapped blue and white ribbons around their necks, the official colors of the suburban Denver school.
Others kneeled next to the circle as the names of the 23 injured in the April 20, 1999, attack also were read.
Among them was Mallory Sanders, granddaughter of slain teacher Dave Sanders, and Steve Wewer, godfather of slain student Daniel Mauser.
Daniel's father, Tom Mauser, wore the Vans shoes his son was wearing the day he was killed.
"They did not kill their spirits. They did not kill ours, either," he told the crowd.
Above them, the U.S. and Colorado state flags flew at half-staff at the Capitol, as ordered by Gov. Bill Ritter. A giant blue ribbon memorializing Columbine hung from the outside of the Capitol's gold dome.
Monday's event was sponsored by Colorado Ceasefire, a gun control group.
"I don't necessarily think we need to get rid of guns entirely," said Richard Castaldo, who was partially paralyzed at Columbine. But he insisted background checks are needed at gun shows. "We need to know who they are."
The crowd at the rally included families commemorating the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.
Columbine students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, armed with guns and pipe bombs, killed 12 students and a teacher. Harris and Klebold later killed themselves.
Harris and Klebold obtained three of the four weapons they used in the massacre from an 18-year-old friend at a gun show, where she wasn't subjected to a background check. The friend later insisted she believed the guns would be used for hunting or collecting.
After Columbine, Colorado's Legislature failed to pass a measure that would have closed the so-called gun show loophole. Colorado voters then passed a ballot initiative to do so. People who buy guns at a gun show must now undergo criminal background checks by a licensed gun dealer, just as they would if they bought a gun from a federally licensed gun store.
"Study paints picture of collegiate mental health"
By Genaro C. Armas, Associated Press Writer, 4/20/2009
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Ever since campus counseling centers were established in the 1940s, college officials have known that the prevalence and severity of students' mental health problems were rising. They just didn't know by how much.
A pilot study released Monday by the Center for the Study of Collegiate Mental Health, at Penn State University, hopes to fill that void. Organizers call it a first-of-its kind effort by college counseling centers designed to get an up-to-date picture of mental health trends affecting higher education.
Most schools collect data of counseling center clients on their own. Until now, though, there have been no national data to help study perceived trends, organizers said.
"Mental health affects every aspect of a college student's functioning," said Ben Locke, executive director of the center. "The earlier you intervene in mental health issues, the more likely you are to be successful in treating it."
The numbers will further help colleges and universities equip themselves to support students, Locke said.
The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors does a separate annual survey of its members. That survey estimated that about 1 in 10 college students seek treatment from campus counseling centers.
But the Penn State study is the first to get data from the counseling center clients themselves, Locke said.
"This is actual data from the counseling centers: the clients who are coming in, what they're saying," said Robert Rando, the director of counseling and wellness services at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. "It's accurate in that way, and no one has done that."
There is concern about the increased severity of mental health problems counseling centers are seeing among student clients, in part because of the increased use of medications such as Prozac by high school students, Rando said.
The collaboration began four years ago, but data collection began only in fall 2008.
The effort had been in the works before the high-profile campus shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Northern Illinois University last year.
The killing of 33 people, including the gunman, at Virginia Tech and five people at Northern Illinois put a spotlight on campus counseling services and risk reduction, said Dennis Heitzmann, director of counseling and psychological services at Penn State.
"What this effort will do will keep our work in the forefront, identify the importance of our function before the administration, parents and students themselves," Heitzmann said.
More than 130 schools nationwide are registered with the center. Of them, 66 participated in the initial study, with responses from more than 28,000 students who received mental health services in fall 2008.
Each counseling center asked clients to answer standardized questions, with the data pooled nationally. All data were anonymous.
Among the study's findings:
• One percent of students who answered a question about binge drinking reported going on a binge 10 or more times in the previous two weeks. Nearly half of those respondents said they had seriously considered suicide in the past.
• The vast majority (93 percent) of students who responded to a question about campus violence had little to no fear of losing control and acting violently.
• The 7 percent considered to have strong fears were most likely to be male and said they had previously harmed another person. They also tended to have experienced a cluster of other symptoms, such as a fear of having a panic attack or suicidal thoughts.
The results "don't translate into a guaranteed assessment or reliable profile at any point, but they offer a starting point in assessing risk in counseling center clients," Locke said.
The center has received $45,000 in funding over the past five years, Locke said. The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit that describes itself as trying to reduce suicides and emotional distress among college students, is listed as a past contributor.
The center also requires members to pay a $150 annual fee. In addition, researchers have received about $100,000 in in-kind funding from Titanium Software.
"Map on HIV says highest rates are in South"
By Associated Press, June 23, 2009
ATLANTA - A new Internet data map offers a first-of-its-kind, county-level look at HIV cases in the United States and finds the infection rates tend to be highest in the South.
The highest numbers of HIV cases are in such population centers as New York and California. However, many of the areas with the highest rates of HIV - that is, the highest proportion of people with the AIDS-causing virus - are in the South, according to the data map, which has information for more than 90 percent of the nation’s counties.
HIV infection rates are higher in African-American communities, and high minority populations in the South help explain the finding. Yet the high rates seen throughout such states as Georgia and South Carolina were surprising, said Gary Puckrein, president of the National Minority Quality Forum, the nonprofit research organization that developed the map.
Of 48 counties with the highest rates for HIV that had not yet progressed to AIDS, 25 were in Georgia, according to the map.
Puckrein said the 2006 data came from state health departments and was checked against information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC officials were cautious about the data map, saying they hadn’t seen all the organization’s information.
(Fred Field for The Boston Globe)
Brigitte Berman, 15, (foreground with her sister, Margot, 13, and mother, Jane at home in Dover) wrote a book about bullying. (Fred Field for The Boston Globe)
"The silent majority: The anti-bullying forces tried to work with the bullies and the victims. Now they’re targeting the bystanders."
By Bella English, Boston Globe Staff, July 18, 2009
Brigitte Berman is 15 years old, nearly 5-feet-11, and a self-described science geek. “I’m in a robotics club, and I really like science, and I’m kind of tall,’’ she says. Because of all of that, she has occasionally been the victim of bullying. So she recently self-published a novel, “Dorie Witt’s Guide to Surviving Bullies.’’ Told in journal form, each chapter contains tips for victims.
But Brigitte - like every other kid - more often has been a witness to bullying than a victim. And she believes there’s no such thing as an innocent bystander: If you’re a spectator, you’re a participant. Still, she knows that helping out is easier said than done.
“I think it’s very hard to be a bystander, because when you’re watching a bully, you’re not sure how or when to intervene. I think people are scared to intervene,’’ says Brigitte, who lives in Dover. “All it takes is one voice and maybe someone else will join in to stop it. I think there’s power in numbers. Bullies don’t like to be put on the spot.’’
In the wake of the various school shootings of the past decade, the focus of curbing antisocial behavior has been on bullies and their victims. But a third group has emerged as even more critical: the bystanders. Now, schools, pediatricians, and others who deal with children are seeking to shift some of the responsibility for stopping an act of bullying to those who witness it.
“Bringing the bystander in was always the critical piece, and in America that response has been the most lacking,’’ says Nancy Mullin, executive director of Bullying Prevention Inc., a Natick consulting firm that helps schools combat the problem. “The stress has been on incorrectly pathologizing the bully: that they are social misfits and have low self-esteem, which we know is wrong.’’ Many bullies, she says, are the popular kids who have followers.
With the growing understanding that bystanders - both children and adults - are key, more schools are engaging in training programs that emphasize the role they play. Mullin is also a program director for the Olweus Intervention Model, which has been adopted by more than 3,000 American schools, including about 20 in Massachusetts. Under that model, created by Norwegian psychologist Dan Olweus, the entire school - teachers, students, secretaries, custodians, cafeteria and playground workers - is trained to recognize and curb bullying.
“All bystanders are not created equal,’’ Mullin says. “They run the gamut from a sidekick egging the bully on to a good Samaritan who steps in.’’ Most fall somewhere in the middle: They feel bad but don’t know what to do, she says. They need strategies as well as support from peers and adults.
Under the Olweus approach, adult witnesses also take more responsibility. “Bullying happens in front of or within earshot of adults most of the time, so they need to be the first responders and they need to be effective,’’ says Mullin. The sole responsibility, she says, shouldn’t be “dumped on kids.’’
National studies indicate that one-third of children have either been a bully or a victim, and nearly all have been bystanders. Marlene Snyder, director of development for the Olweus program in the United States, agrees that the majority can no longer remain silent, given the serious consequences.
“Bystanders are key. They need to know it is OK not to join in and that they can reach out to those kids who are being bullied,’’ Snyder says. “They can circle back and say, ‘Come sit with us. We’re sorry that happened. It isn’t right.’ It takes a lot of courage.’’
In a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Boston pediatrician Robert Sege defines the role doctors should play in bullying prevention. It is the first time the academy has included a section on bullying, including a recommendation that schools adopt the Olweus prevention model. Protecting children from injury, including bullying, is a key task of pediatricians, says Sege, who is chief of ambulatory pediatrics at Boston Medical Center.
“The brilliance of it is that Olweus identified that the key to stopping bullying was activating the bystanders,’’ says Sege, who is also medical director of the hospital’s child protection team. “The kids make a social contract that they’re going to protect the more vulnerable ones against bullying.’’ By doing so, he notes, the bystanders’ view of the bully changes from “top of the heap to the bottom. They see that the bully has a problem managing his or her behavior. They have reinterpreted the bully’s behavior as weird.’’
Sege says pediatricians must be ready to ask key questions of patients at routine checkups, as he does: “What’s going on at school? Do you feel safe there? What happens on the playground? Do kids get picked on?’’ They should also counsel parents about bullying, and be ready to call the school principal on a patient’s behalf, he adds.
This month, a Springfield mother testified before a congressional subcommittee in the wake of her son’s suicide following relentless bullying at school. Sirdeaner Walker told the panel she supports a bill that would require states that receive grants for safe and drug-free schools to invest in bullying prevention programs.
Last year, Brigitte’s sister, Margot, was the victim of cyberbullying by girls at her school. “Gay’’ or “lesbian’’ is the slur du jour: Margot, 13, and her group of friends were targeted by those who posted on Facebook or AIM. “They said rude things and made lesbian comments,’’ says Margot.
Jane Berman, the girls’ mother, took action. She knew the offenders’ parents and felt comfortable talking to them about it. The girls apologized; one even sent a handwritten letter. Berman thinks talking to the parents or school officials is a good solution. “I was taught in my generation just to ignore it,’’ she says. “But that really never worked.’’
Margot, who will enter the eighth grade in the fall, sees lots of name-calling on the school bus. “If we see it going on, we always say, ‘Stop that. It’s not nice,’ or we say something to the person being bullied, like, ‘How was your day?’ ’’ Still, she says, most kids stand by and watch. “They’re afraid to speak up.’’
Hasan Jafri, 17, will soon enter his senior year at the Dexter School in Brookline. His school takes a zero-tolerance approach to hazing and sexual harassment, and he says there’s not much bullying. But when he was younger, he witnessed some taunting. “I think the bystanders are important, because in my opinion they really can stop it or they can contribute to it,’’ says Jafri.
As for Brigitte, she has witnessed the “mean girl’’ syndrome, where so-called friends turn on one another, excluding first one, then another girl, while spreading gossip. “I think it’s happened to almost every girl,’’ she says. “You don’t even know what brings it about.’’
She believes that out of the group of gossipers, one or two will be uncomfortable about it. And they’re obliged to do say something - either to the shunners or the shunned. “Just walk away and talk to that other girl,’’ she says. “It’s difficult because you don’t want to be shunned, either. But I feel you’re obligated. You can’t just watch as people just trash another person.’’
"What to tell your child"
By Bella English, Boston Globe Staff, July 18, 2009
Here’s what parents can do to help “bystander’’ children stop bullying:
. Tell your child not to cheer on or even quietly watch bullying. This only encourages the bully who is trying to be the center of attention.
. Encourage your child to tell a trusted adult about the bullying. Talking to an adult is not being a tattle-tale. Standing up for another child by getting help is an act of courage and safety. To make it easier, suggest taking a friend.
. Help your child support other children who may be bullied. Encourage your child to include these children in activities.
. Encourage your child to join with others in telling bullies to stop. Knowing what to say is important. If your child feels safe, the following statement may help to stop the bully: “Cool it! This isn’t going to solve anything.’’
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics
In this undated file photo released by the Virginia State Police, Seung-Hui Cho is shown. Photo by AP (file).
"Va. Tech gunman’s mental health records found"
By Associated Press, Wednesday, July 22, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - South
RICHMOND, Va. — The Associated Press has learned that missing mental health records for the Virginia Tech gunman have been discovered in the home of the former director of the university’s counseling center.
Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people on April 16, 2007, then committed suicide as police closed in. His mental health treatment has been a major issue in the investigation of the shootings.
A memo from Gov. Tim Kaine’s chief legal counsel says Cho’s records and those of several other Virginia Tech students were found July 18 in the home of Dr. Robert H. Miller.
The memo to families of the massacre victims said the records were removed from the Cook Counseling Center on the Virginia Tech campus more than a year before the shootings.
The recovery of the records, which eluded a vast criminal investigation two years ago, was announced first on Wednesday by Gov. Tim Kaine.
"New Questions on a Tragedy: Two years after the Virginia Tech massacre, discovery of the shooter's mental health records should spark fresh inquiries."
washingtonpost.com - Editorial - Sunday, August 2, 2009
TWO YEARS AFTER Seung Hui Cho's bloody killing spree on the campus of Virginia Tech, the news that his missing mental health records have suddenly turned up at the home of the university's counseling center's former director raises a raft of unsettling questions.
Of course, the obvious one is what the records reveal, if anything, about Mr. Cho's state of mind in December 2005 when, on a judge's order, he appeared for an appointment at the counseling center. Was he evaluated? What were the results? Did his visit ring any alarm bells, and if so, why was there no follow-up by the school's mental health professionals?
Equally if not more disturbing, however, are the questions surrounding the disappearance and discovery of the documents:
What was going through the mind of Robert Miller, the former counseling center director, when he removed Mr. Cho's records, and those of a few other patients, upon leaving his job there in 2006, a year before Mr. Cho's rampage? And why did it take him more than two years -- until, he says, a lawsuit prompted him to undertake a search at his home -- to recall that he had "inadvertently" (and possibly illegally) removed the documents?
As Suzanne Grimes, whose son was injured in the shootings, told The Post: "When you retire, you take the pictures off the wall. You don't take records."
The unfortunate but inevitable upshot of this episode is to undercut the confidence of the public, and of the victims' relatives, in the soundness of the report of a blue-ribbon state commission charged with investigating the shootings in 2007. Among other troubling recent revelations is that the state commission apparently did not question Mr. Miller about the whereabouts of the documents. That omission is particularly mystifying given that the commission was led by a former state police superintendent, W. Gerald Massengill, who should know something about conducting an investigation and unearthing documents.
So now some of the victims' families are pressing Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to reconvene the commission to ensure that it got the facts right the first time around, and to determine whether a cover-up contributed to the disappearance of Mr. Cho's mental health records. Mr. Kaine would be well advised to do so. Allowing the new questions to fester would add a toxic aftertaste to an already bitter event.
Related News Article:
"Seung Hui Cho -- The Struggle to Understand a Killer"
This undated file photo shows Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho. Recently discovered health records for Cho have been released. (Virginia State Police/AP Photo)
"Va. Tech Shooter Seung-Hui Cho's Mental Health Records Released: Cho Killed 32 Students Then Himself in April 2007"
By EMILY FRIEDMAN, ABC News Online, August 19, 2009
The missing pieces of the mental health records of Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho were made public today by the university, offering the first glimpse at the medical evaluations Cho underwent prior to committing the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
The records chronicle two telephone conversations and one in-person visit between Cho and mental health professionals at the Cook Counseling Center, the university's student mental health services provider, in the winter of 2005, the only instances in which the student ever interacted with the center, according to authorities.
Throughout his visits with mental health professionals, Cho denied having any homicidal or suicidal thoughts, according to documents.
The in-person consultation at the center followed Cho's release from the psych ward at Carilion St. Albans hospital on Dec. 14, 2005. According to the documents, Cho had been admitted overnight to the hospital after his roommate became concerned when Cho threatened to take his own life.
"I met with student for about 30 minutes," wrote triage counselor Sherry Lynch Conrad on a Post-It note stuck to Cho's file dated Dec. 14, 2005, the day after his release. "He denied any suicidal or homicidal ideation. Said the comment he made was a joke. Says he has no reason to harm self and would never do it."
Even so, Conrad drew an "X" through the portion of the medical chart that assesses a patient's mental health, instead writing, "Did not assess -- student has had two previous triages in past two weeks -- last two days ago."
Conrad wrote that she provided Cho with emergency numbers should he begin to have "suicidal or homicidal thoughts" over winter break, but she did not schedule a follow-up appointment because Cho didn't "know his schedule."
Cho first made contact with the center on Nov. 30, 2005, when he was referred by a professor.
In the records from his initial telephone conversation, another triage counselor checked off "Troubled: Further contact within 2 weeks" under the portion of the form that rates the severity of the patient's disposition.
An in-person appointment was scheduled for Cho on Dec. 12, 2005, but when he failed to show up, another telephone consultation took place.
According to the documents, Cho indicated in the second phone conversation that his symptoms of depression and anxiety had persisted. He also said that he was having trouble concentrating.
That counselor's notes indicate that Cho said that "he did not want to come in at this time," despite his symptoms.
This is the first time the public has seen the notes of three separate therapists who counseled Cho.
On April 16, 2007, Cho killed 32 people and then himself on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., making the school the site of the deadliest shooting in U.S. history and the focal point for a renewed debate over gun control and mental health services.
In a written statement released in conjunction with the medical records, Virginia Tech released a statement saying the university believes the center's counselors acted "appropriately in their evaluation of Cho."
"The absence and belated discovery of these missing files have caused pain, further grief, and anxiety for families of the April 16 victims and survivors, as well as for the Cook Counseling Center professionals who interacted with Cho and created and maintained appropriate departmental records," reads the statement.
"With release of these records, Virginia Tech seeks to provide those deeply affected by the horrible events of April 2007 with as much information as is known about Cho's interactions with the mental health system 15-16 months prior to the tragedy."
Just two weeks after the shootings, Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine signed an executive order that required anyone court-ordered to receive mental health treatment be added to a state database of people prohibited from buying guns.
A year after the shooting, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., introduced legislation that would amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which determines how much of a student's mental health records can be disclosed by a university. Webb argued that the Virginia Tech massacre may have been prevented had the policy been more clear on when information about a mentally ill student can be shared by a university .
Cho Records Initially Found to Be Missing
The records released today were discovered to be missing during a Virginia panel's August 2007 investigation -- four-and-a-half months after the massacre.
The notes were recovered last month from the home of Dr. Robert Miller, the former director of the counseling center, who says he inadvertently packed Cho's file into boxes of personal belongings when he left the center in February 2006. Until the July 2009 discovery of the documents, Miller said he had no idea he had the records.
Miller has since been let go from the university.
Cho, born in 1984 in Seoul, South Korea, was a naturalized U.S. citizen and had lived in the Washington, D.C., area since age 8.
In the days and weeks following the massacre, it became clear that Cho had not been a happy child. Even his grandfather told ABCNews.com after the massacre that his grandson Cho had "never hugged."
The documents released today make no reference to any mental health diagnoses prior to Cho's time as a Virginia Tech student. After the shooting it was reported that Cho had been diagnosed and had received treatment as a young adult for an anxiety disorder.
Four months after the shootings, Gov. Kaine released a report that harshly criticized the university for its handling of the incident, primarily in the failure to notify students promptly about the shootings, as well as the failure to notice warning signs that he says may have prevented the incident altogether.
University officials have cited privacy laws as the reason they did not exchange information on Cho's mental health history or contact his parents about problems he was having on campus.
The Virginia Tech massacre occurred over a span of several hours, beginning in the early morning of April 16, when Cho claimed his first victims -- students Emily Hilscher, 19, and Ryan Clark, 22 -- as they sat in Hilscher's fourth-floor dorm room.
Cho is then believed to have returned to his own dorm room, where he collected more ammunition and firearms before preparing a lengthy note in which he wrote, "You caused me to do this."
Recounting the Virginia Tech Massacre
Meanwhile, campus police were just then receiving a call about an incident in the dorm room.
At approximately 9:01 a.m., Cho went to the Blacksburg Post Office where he mailed photos, a letter and video clips of himself reciting an angry rant to NBC. The multimedia manifesto included 27 video clips with 10 minutes worth of Cho's chilling, personal rantings.
"You had 100 billion chances and ways to avoid today. But you decided to spill my blood," Cho said on the video in the package. "You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off."
Included with the video clips was a 1,800-word diatribe in which he professed admiration for Columbine killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris; Cho carried out his rampage on the same week as the Columbine murders were committed in 1999.
Forty-three still photos, 10 of which showed Cho holding handguns, were also included in the package sent to NBC.
Cho then headed to Virginia Tech's engineering building, Norris Hall, where he shot and killed 30 people before taking his own life. Cho fired more than 170 rounds, a shot every three seconds, inside the building where he had once attended class.
In all, Cho's shooting rampage inside the building lasted nine minutes. It took police three minutes to respond to the scene and another five minutes to break through chains that Cho had used to lock the building's three public entrances.
Police heard a final gunshot -- presumably Cho's suicide shot -- before entering one of the four classrooms he targeted and discovering his corpse among some of his 30 Norris Hall victims.
Two handguns were retrieved near Cho's body: a .22 caliber model that was purchased in February from a Wisconsin dealer, the same one that 48-year-old George Sodini got his guns from for use in the Aug. 4 fitness club killings near Pittsburgh. Cho also purchased a 9 mm model at a Roanoke gun shop.
"AP Enterprise: Bullying laws give scant protection"
By Dionne Walker, Associated Press Writer, September 14, 2009
ATLANTA --Recent student suicides have parents and advocates complaining that anti-bullying laws enacted in nearly every state are not being enforced and do not go far enough to identify and rid schools of chronic tormentors.
Forty-four states expressly ban bullying, a legislative legacy of a rash of school shootings in the late '90s, yet few if any of those measures have identified children who excessively pick on their peers, an Associated Press review has found. And few offer any method for ensuring the policies are enforced, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The issue came to a head in April when 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera committed suicide at his Atlanta-area home after his parents say he was repeatedly tormented in school. District officials denied it, and an independent review found bullying wasn't a factor, a conclusion his family rejects.
Regardless, Georgia's law, among the toughest in the nation, still would not have applied: It only applies to students in grades six to 12. Herrera was a fifth-grader.
Georgia's law has one of the largest gaps between what it requires of districts and the tools it gives them for meeting those requirements. The state doesn't collect data specifically on bullying occurrences, despite legislation that promises to strip state funding from schools failing to take action after three instances involving a bully.
After Herrera's death, other parents came forward to say their children had been bullied and that school officials did nothing with the complaints, rendering the state's law useless.
"There is a systematic problem," said Mike Wilson, who said his 12-year-old daughter was bullied for two years in the same school district where Herrera died. "The lower level employees, the teachers, the principals, are trying to keep this information suppressed at the lowest possible level."
Only six states -- Montana, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, North Dakota and South Dakota -- and the District of Columbia lack specific laws targeting school bullying, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most states require school districts to adopt open-ended policies to prohibit bullying and harassment.
While some direct state education officials to form model policies that school districts should mimic, they offer little to assure the policies are enforced; only a handful of states require specific data gathering meant to assure bullying is being monitored, for instance.
"The states themselves can't micromanage a school district -- but they can say to a school district, 'Look, you have to have consequences,'" said Brenda High, whose Web site, Bully Police USA, tracks anti-bullying laws across the nation, and who advocates for strict repercussions for bullies. The Washington state-based advocate's son, Jared, was 13 when he committed suicide in 1998 after complaining of bullying.
"It needs to be written into the law that bullying has the same consequences as assault," she said. "The records and such need to be kept so that if the child is a chronic bully, they -- after so many instances -- will end up in an alternative school."
Alaska and Georgia have particularly specific statutes. Alaska's Department of Education and Early Development must compile annual data on bullying complaints and report it to the Legislature.
Georgia's 10-year-old law goes a step further. It specifies that three instances of bullying is grounds for transfer to an alternative school, away from the victim. School systems not in compliance forfeit state funding, according to the law.
Despite that record-keeping provision, the Georgia Department of Education cannot say whether any child has been transferred as a result of bullying because the department only tracks the number for broader offenses, including fighting and threats, spokesman Dana Tofig said.
"If the district is not enforcing its own bullying policy, and that's been happening repeatedly, the law says they can lose their state funding," Tofig said.
No school has lost funding under the law, according to the department.
Some school districts say they keep track of complaints, especially those involving a single child being bullied more than once, and that they address those cases. Without a legal obligation to report such data to state officials, however, it's unclear how any such statistics are used.
In 2007, nearly a third of students ages 12 to 18 reported having been bullied during the school year, according to data on more than 55 million students compiled annually by the National Center for Education Statistics. That's up from as few as 1 in 10 students in the '90s, though bullying experts point out the rising numbers may reflect more reports of bullying, not necessarily more incidents.
Many children reported teasing, spreading rumors and threats, all harder to spot and manage, school leaders say.
"One of the questions is how do you quantify bullying? It could even be as simple as a rolling of the eyes," said Dale Davis, a spokesman for schools in DeKalb County, Ga., where Herrera committed suicide.
District officials have said since soon after the boy's death that there was no evidence that Herrera was bullied, and that outside factors including the death of a close relative influenced him to take his life.
Herrera's death in mid-April came barely two weeks after Sirdeaner Walker found her son Carl hanged in her Springfield, Mass., home. The 11-year-old had complained of teasing almost immediately after arriving at his new charter school, she said.
Parents in Illinois likewise pointed to bullies after three suicides there in February: a 10-year-old boy hanged himself in a restroom stall in a suburban Chicago school, an 11-year-old boy was found dead in Chatham, south of Springfield, and a father found his 11-year-old daughter hanged in a closet of their Chicago home.
Dr. Diahann Meekins Moore, associate director for psychiatric services at the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services, cautioned that it's unclear whether bullying could be considered a primary cause in those deaths or in any suicide.
All the same, every suicide with a hint of bullying, every school rampage involving a shooter who claims to have been bullied renews the debate over whether anyone can curb what most consider a harsh and inevitable part of childhood, and if so, who bears that responsibility.
"A lot of this has to be handled in the home," said Peter Daboul, chair of the board of trustees at New Leadership, the Massachusetts school where her son was a 6th grader.
Teachers there will receive training on spotting childhood depression and bullying, he said, "but you also have the family unit where these kids are hopefully taught the difference between right and wrong."
Sirdeaner Walker said reminding a child that they're loved at home is less effective when they're being teased in the classroom.
"I can say that all the time," Walker said. "But again, I have to send my child back to the school."
THE BOSTON GLOBE: CLAUDIA MEININGER GOLD
"How we can end the cycle of bullying"
By Claudia Meininger Gold, September 14, 2009
BACK TO SCHOOL, and in my pediatric practice worries about bullying reappear. Recently one 10-year-old told me of his fears. Last year, despite many discussions with school personnel, he had not felt protected from a boy who repeatedly tormented him. The bully is also my patient. He was physically abused through much of his early life. I knew that until this other boy could get meaningful help, there was little the school could do to stop his behavior.
While discussions of bullying usually focus on children, anyone who has worked in an organization knows that these behaviors, if not addressed, may continue into adulthood. At worst, bullying leads to violent, criminal behavior. A recent study in the Archives of General Psychiatry of 5,000 children in Finland found that both bullies and their victims were at increased risk of needing psychiatric treatment in their teens or 20s. We need to think carefully about the origins of this problem, and to devote significant resources to prevention.
Bullying is a symptom. People have difficulty managing their aggression. This symptom can start very young. Toddlers who are just learning to control their healthy aggressive feelings may grow up in environments where the adults in their lives are not able to help them with this task.
Assertiveness, a quality generally considered to be a positive one, actually has a similar meaning, but looks different in a 2-year-old. Lacking the verbal skills to express intense emotion, Johnny, wanting the red truck another child grabbed out of his hands, may not have a calm discussion, but instead take the truck and whack the other child on the head. Parents clearly have the responsibility to teach a child that such behavior is unacceptable. But in order to learn to manage his aggression as he grows up, a child needs to know that his feelings are acceptable, just the behavior is not. He needs help learning how to understand and contain strong emotions.
If a parent has experienced violence in her past, she may misinterpret a child’s healthy aggression. When Johnny whacks another kid, or hits his mother, she may experience a surge of stress and even rage. These feelings have nothing to do with Johnny, but make it very difficult to think about Johnny’s experience from his 2-year-old perspective. Rather than help him control his aggression, she may convey a sense that the feelings are “bad.’’
If a child gets the idea that his feelings are wrong, these feelings don’t go away. They just become disconnected from the child’s sense of himself. Unable to think about his feelings, he may simply act them out.
Children who have been neglected have no help managing their normal aggression. Those in abusive homes have been hurt by the very person who was supposed to protect them. They may, as a means of coping with this paradoxical situation, identify with the abuser and imitate the behavior as a way of being close.
Given the complexity of the problem, “bully-free zones’’ are clearly an inadequate response. A recent American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on violence prevention advocates support of early parenting skills and appropriate referral for mental health services.
While the academy’s goals are laudable, from the perspective of my small-town practice, they are largely unattainable.
The primary-care setting is an ideal place to help a parent, particularly one who has herself been traumatized, understand how her own life experiences may be getting in the way of teaching a child to manage aggression. Nurturing parents of young children is our best hope for breaking a cycle of transmission of trauma from one generation to the next.
But pressure from the health insurance industry for primary-care providers to see more patients in less time ensures that a parent is unlikely to open up and receive such support. Getting help for children who have themselves been abused is a daunting task. Access to quality mental health services is severely restricted.
Without meaningful health care reform that places value on primary care and mental health, the bullies will prevail.
Claudia Meininger Gold, a pediatrician, practices in Great Barrington.
September 14, 2009
Bullying is really done by people behind the scenes. I have been bullied many times in my life, including as an adult, and when I looked back on the incidents, there was always someone in a position of power goading & rewarding the henchmen or henchwomen to harass me!
Now I am a mentally disabled adult. I will never go down to the levels of the bullies and those who goaded and rewarded them. I guess the moral of my story is for me NOT to trust many people and to watch my back!
- Jonathan Melle
"Bullying the disabled"
The Boston Globe, Letters, November 28, 2009
THE GLOBE is right to support Representative John Rogers’s anti-bullying legislation that is now before the Legislature. (“Bullying bill won’t solve all, but it’s a needed first step,’’ Nov. 23, editorial).
Instances of harassment, discrimination, and intimidation are not, as some would propose, “rites of passage’’ that school officials should simply dismiss by allowing kids to “work it out’’ on their own.
As an organization that represents 180,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Massachusetts, we feel obligated to note that people with disabilities are especially at risk of being victimized by bullies. According to a 2002 study, 94 percent of children with one particular disability, Asperger syndrome, faced torment from classmates. The proposed bill does not single out people with disabilities, and it shouldn’t have to.
In fact, that’s exactly the point; all children should have the right to attend school with the assurance that they are being kept safe.
The writer is director of government affairs for The Arc of Massachusetts.
"6 Ways Parents Can Help Kids Cope With Social Cruelty"
By Nancy Shute, U.S. News & World Report, February 5, 2010
Kids can be incredibly cruel to one another, but parents can help minimize the pain. That's the reassuring message from Carl Pickhardt, a clinical psychologist in Austin who recently wrote Why Good Kids Act Cruel: The Hidden Truth About the Pre-Teen Years (Sourcebooks, $14.99). Though Pickhardt's book is aimed at tweeners, I found his book helpful as the mom of a first grader already faced with "I'm not inviting you to my birthday party."
I called up Pickhardt for firsthand advice and to ask him why he focused on the middle-school years, when social cruelty knows no age restrictions. "It's not that you don't get it in childhood," Pickhardt says. "It's just that the most damaging point is in middle school. The kids are right in the midst of this developmental change from childhood to adolescence. Combine that with self-awareness and striving for social place. It can be really devastating." Kids who don't feel safe at school can't concentrate on academics, and nobody wants to see a child suffer.
That's why parents and teachers need to take the initiative, Pickhardt says. It's too easy for kids to think that school is just about grades and that parents and teachers don't care about social problems or can't do anything about it. "Parents should let kids know that at this age, what very frequently happens is that people are trying to get a secure social place. They will treat each other meanly in service of that. There will be teasing, and exclusion, and bullying, and ganging up.
"Parents should say, 'If any of this should ever come your way, please let me know. I can help you with that.' "
OK, sounds good, but what do I do? Pickhardt's advice: Ask your child to explain what's going on, listen sympathetically, and try these six things as a way to help him or her cope:
1. Confront. Ask the child: "Are you being treated meanly by other students at school?"
2. Support: Tell your child he won't feel so all alone if he lets you know what's happening. I particularly liked Pickhardt's suggestion about what parents should say when a child takes teasing personally: "You need to understand, when you are being teased in a mean way, that teasing says nothing about you. It says the person who is teasing wants to be mean. It's not about you. It's about them."
3. Get specifics: Find out exactly what's going on, when, and where, and how many students are involved.
4. Strategize options: Come up with different choices, so that if it happens again, your child will have a plan.
5. Motivate: Praise your child for hanging in there and having the courage to go to school despite the hard times.
6. Assess: "Do you think with our support and coaching you can see this through, or do you think we need to communicate directly with the school?" Intervening with the school may be essential if your child is in physical or psychological danger or frightened about being hurt. "We need safe schools," Pickhardt says. "We owe our children that."
Bullies and mean kids won't go away altogether, of course. But there's a world of difference between a kid being a target of social cruelty and a victim of social cruelty. Pickhardt says. "A target says, 'Hey, this is happening to me, and I don't like it, and I am trying to figure out what to do about it.' A victim says, 'This is happening to me, and I have no choice.' "
(Globe Staff Photo Illustration)
"Inside the bullied brain: The alarming neuroscience of taunting"
By Emily Anthes, Boston Globe, Ideas, November 28, 2010
In the wake of several tragedies that have made bullying a high-profile issue, it’s becoming clear that harassment by one’s peers is something more than just a rite of passage. Bullied kids are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and suicidal. They struggle in school — when they decide to show up at all. They are more likely to carry weapons, get in fights, and use drugs.
But when it comes to the actual harm bullying does, the picture grows murkier. The psychological torment that victims feel is real. But perhaps because many of us have experienced this sort of schoolyard cruelty and lived to tell the tale, peer harassment is still commonly written off as a “soft” form of abuse — one that leaves no obvious injuries and that most victims simply get over. It’s easy to imagine that, painful as bullying can be, all it hurts is our feelings.
A new wave of research into bullying’s effects, however, is now suggesting something more than that — that in fact, bullying can leave an indelible imprint on a teen’s brain at a time when it is still growing and developing. Being ostracized by one’s peers, it seems, can throw adolescent hormones even further out of whack, lead to reduced connectivity in the brain, and even sabotage the growth of new neurons.
These neurological scars, it turns out, closely resemble those borne by children who are physically and sexually abused in early childhood. Neuroscientists now know that the human brain continues to grow and change long after the first few years of life. By revealing the internal physiological damage that bullying can do, researchers are recasting it not as merely an unfortunate rite of passage but as a serious form of childhood trauma.
This change in perspective could have all sorts of ripple effects for parents, kids, and schools; it offers a new way to think about the pain suffered by ostracized kids, and could spur new antibullying policies. It offers the prospect that peer harassment, much like abuse and other traumatic experiences, may increasingly be seen as a medical problem — one that can be measured with brain scans, and which may yield to new kinds of clinical treatment.
During the first half of the 20th century, even severe child abuse was considered a largely psychological problem in its long-term effects, denting children emotionally in a way that made it hard for them to grow into happy adults.
Gradually, however, scientists began to look at the brains of adults who had been abused as children and realize that the damage wasn’t just emotional: Their brains had undergone telltale long-term changes. Over the past two decades, neuroscientists have marshaled plenty of evidence that serious physical and sexual abuse during early childhood can short-circuit normal brain development.
But what about cruelty that is emotional rather than physical? That that comes from peers instead of parents? And happens at school instead of at home, when children’s brains are no longer so young and malleable? In other words, what about bullying?
Martin Teicher, a neuroscientist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, has been examining just these kinds of scenarios. He began by studying the effects of being verbally abused by a parent. In his study of more than 1,000 young adults, Teicher found that verbal abuse could be as damaging to psychological functioning as the physical kind — that words were as hurtful as the famous sticks and stones. The finding sparked a new idea: “We decided to look at peer victimization,” he said.
So Teicher and his colleagues went back to their young adult subjects, focusing on those they had assumed were healthy in this respect — who’d had no history of abuse from their parents. The subjects, however, varied in how much verbal harassment — such as teasing, ridicule, criticism, screaming, and swearing — they had received from their peers.
What the scientists found was that kids who had been bullied reported more symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders than the kids who hadn’t. In fact, emotional abuse from peers turned out to be as damaging to mental health as emotional abuse from parents. “It’s a substantial early stressor,” Teicher said. The data were published in July in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Things got even more interesting when Teicher decided to scan the brains of 63 of his young adult subjects. Those who reported having been mistreated by their peers had observable abnormalities in a part of the brain known as the corpus callosum — a thick bundle of fibers that connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and which is vital in visual processing, memory, and more. The neurons in their corpus callosums had less myelin, a coating that speeds communication between the cells — vital in an organ like the brain where milliseconds matter.
It’s not yet entirely clear what these changes in the corpus callosum may lead to, or whether they’re connected to the higher rates of depression that Teicher found in bullied kids. “There may be some subtle neurocognitive difficulties,” he said. “We’re currently doing research that will allow us to answer this question better.”
Teicher’s study is just one of a number of recent studies that have been finding troubling physical effects of even verbal bullying. For the past several years, Tracy Vaillancourt, a psychologist at the University of Ottawa, has been following a group of 12-year-olds, including some who had a history of being victimized by their peers, and assessing their functioning every six months. Among other things, she has discovered that being tormented by other kids can recalibrate children’s levels of cortisol, a hormone pumped out by the body during times of stress.
In a 2008 paper published in the journal Aggressive Behavior, Vaillancourt demonstrated that boys who are occasionally bullied have higher levels of cortisol than their peers. Bullied girls, meanwhile, seem to have abnormally low levels of the hormone. (It’s not entirely clear why that’s the case, but low cortisol levels are sometimes a sign of a body that has been so chronically stressed that it has learned to make less of the hormone.)
Vaillancourt speculates that cortisol may, in fact, underlie many of the adverse effects of bullying: It can weaken the functioning of the immune system, and at high levels can damage and even kill neurons in the hippocampus, potentially leading to memory problems that could make academics more difficult. Indeed, Vaillancourt has already found that teens who are bullied perform worse on tests of verbal memory than their peers. One of her next studies involves trying to get at this question directly: She will be putting some of her subjects — now ages 16 and 17 — into an MRI machine to look for evidence of damage to the hippocampus.
Research on animals suggests that Vaillancourt might be onto something. To model the kind of psychosocial stress that accompanies bullying, Daniel A. Peterson, a neuroscientist at the Chicago Medical School, did a series of experiments in which he put a young, subordinate rat in a cage belonging to a much larger, older, more aggressive rat. The dominant rat — the king of this particular playground — promptly began to push the smaller one around. “We let it go to the point where there’s substantial physical contact, maybe a bite or two,” Peterson said. Then, the researchers would rescue the younger rat, removing him from the cage before he could be seriously injured.
As Peterson documented in a 2007 paper in the Journal of Neuroscience, just a single session of this kind of bullying was enough to leave a mark on the smaller rat’s brain. In particular, Peterson and his colleagues examined the rate of neurogenesis, or the birth of new brain cells, in that same all-important memory-maker: the hippocampus. The bullied rats still made new neurons at a normal rate, but there was a significant hiccup in the process — an unusually high percentage of the cells would die off before becoming fully mature.
It’s not yet clear how long these changes last. Peterson suspects that neuron survival returns to normal if the bullying is a single, isolated incident, as it was with his rats. But, he says, “I think if you had a more persistent stressor of this level, it could reset the thermostat so you’d have a lower level of neurogenesis going on.”
Research into the neurological effects of bullying is still preliminary, and animal models are not perfect replicas of human social behavior. But together, these early findings suggest that bullying, even the verbal kind, is more similar to physical and sexual abuse than we might like to admit. No longer can we draw a clear line between the two kinds of mistreatment — they can both produce the same kind of trauma.
There is still much that neuroscientists need to sort out, however. It remains difficult to thoroughly disentangle cause and effect: It’s possible, for instance, that kids with certain hormonal levels or brain characteristics are more likely, for whatever reason, to be bullied in the first place. And, encouragingly, changes in the brain don’t always translate into long-term damage: Indeed, some of the subjects who had what researchers suspect are bullying-related brain changes are now happy, healthy adults.
But the findings are certainly provocative, and they raise some serious questions about how we should think about bullying. Does being victimized have subtle effects on cognitive functioning that we haven’t even noticed yet? Might some kids be more likely to develop the neurological hallmarks of bullying? Now that we know that victims are undergoing profound physiological changes, are there medical interventions that would be as helpful, or more so, than counseling and therapy? Would demonstrating that bullying scars the brain make it easier to prosecute bullies in court?
Vaillancourt, for her part, sees another kind of value to the new neurobiological research: as a tool to change how bullying is seen by the public, as well as by educators who may be in a position to intervene. In the past, Vaillancourt has been frustrated that her studies on the emotional and psychological effects of bullying have not generated much attention. “When I show that something is biological, it makes headlines,” she said. “For some reason I think humans are more compelled to believe biological evidence than someone saying, ‘Oh I’m depressed. I don’t feel good about this.’ I’m hoping that that is a policy changer.”
Emily Anthes is a freelance science writer.
"How Parents Can Help Children Who Are Bullied"
By Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben, Yahoo! News, May 30, 2011
We talk about bullying prevention in large terms. We tell children what to do about bullying in school. We fault schools for failing to prevent bullying. The only person who can prevent bullying is the bully. What parents can do is help children address bullying when it happens.
If your child is being bullied or feels bullied, the only way to know is to listen and watch for signs. If your child says someone is picking on him at school, listen to what he says. Don't blow it out of proportion, but don't blow it off. Stay calm. You'll be able to think more clearly and address the situation effectively.
* Make it about your child, not you. This is not the time for power games or theatrics. Take an assertive role, but don't turn it into a muscle flexing contest. Kids know when mom or dad really cares about them and when they're just in the mood for a fight. This is awkward for your child and will not encourage him to share other hurtful behavior.
* Respect your child's wishes as far as possible about how he wants to handle it. If the bullying happened just once, or if your child isn't convinced it was bullying, agree to take a wait-and-see attitude. Keep the lines of communication open and watch for behavior cues.
* Exceptions include: violent bullying, bullying done by an older child on a younger child or gang bullying. If your child experiences this kind of bullying, you may not be able to take a "wait and see approach."
* Don't leave your child to handle it alone. Never tell him to "ignore them and they'll go away." You may not have to act, but be prepared to do so if necessary.
* Enlist support. Tell the school or bus driver if it happened at school or en route. Don't be combative or blaming. School staff will then be aware that there is past history if it happens again. They will be watching.
* Don't make it an adult-child confrontation. Adults should not attempt to correct another person's child. If the bullying occurred away from home, you don't know what happened. Confronting the child will bring out parental defensiveness.
* Take it up with the parents. The school can't stop all bullying and shouldn't be expected to. The school may not be able to address the bullying if it happened before or after school.
* In a non-threatening way, explain what happened from your child's point of view. If they agree to deal with it, give them one chance (and one chance only). If they resist you or if it continues, don't hesitate to contact the authorities and press charges for harassment.
Our youngest daughter and several classmates were bullied (hitting, pushing) by a large boy at a charter school. The rules about behavior were very lax and the school had a permissive approach. Bullying behavior flourished. I worked as as a substitute teacher and saw the bullying myself first-hand.
The teacher wanted to handle it herself, but the bullying continued on the playground. The playground aides told the girls to "stay out of the bully's way." They also scolded the girls, whom the aides claimed were trying to get the boy in trouble. I warned the teacher that if it didn't stop, I would call the parents. It didn't stop and we finally had to move our daughter to a public school.
Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben writes from 22 years parenting four kids and 25 years teaching K-8, special needs, adult education and homeschool.
Anne O'Brien, mother of Phoebe Prince
Anne O'Brien, mother of Phoebe Prince, center, delivers a victim impact statement at a hearing in Franklin - Hampshire Juvenile Court, in Northampton, Mass., Thursday, May 5, 2011. Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, former Northwest first assistant district attorney, left, and victim-witness advocate Jane Schevalier, right, look on. Six teens have been accused of bullying Prince so relentlessly that the 15-year-old hanged herself. (AP Photo/Michael S. Gordon, Pool)
February 11, 2012
I believe college campuses can be violent places for young adults. I think that our nation has a poor mental health system to help young adults transition from their childhoods to adulthood. I would not want to be 20-years-old again. I read news articles that student loans have sky-rocketed by a factor of 10 over the last decade. Moreover, about 30% of young people are unemployed. It is like the Great Depression is real for people in their 20's. A young person has student loans, no job, and has to deal with violence among their peers. I think arming campus police is a way to stop violence, but I think that young adults need mental health-care, too. If it wasn't for my parents, I would have been homeless as a person in my 20's about over a decade ago (I am now 36). I dealt with violence, had student loans, and at times had no work, when I was in my 20's. I learned to seek mental health treatment to cope with it all. Now I am financially secure and look back with pity at those young adults who face such difficult realities. I believe they need mental health-care.
- Jonathan Melle
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
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