NYSUT's ongoing campaign about the dangers of bullying reached more than 1,000 students, educators and community activists this week during a day-long forum at SUNY Geneseo that focused on prevention and proactive responses.
"For kids now, this is like the Civil Rights movement - 'How do we change our attitudes?'" said NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler, who led a workshop on how to inspire students to develop the social conscience that stops bullying. In his talk to a mixed audience of hundreds of students and educators, Cutler said it is possible to create a culture that fights bullying.
"I've seen it work," he said.
Jamie Nabozny, a nationally known anti-bullying activist who is speaking at school districts around the state this year in partnership with NYSUT, affirmed that students themselves can change the culture of a school. He cited several examples in which students have either stepped forward as leaders to speak out about bullying or have come up with creative solutions to stop it, such as reporting cyber bullying to the managers of social media sites. (Visit NYSUT and the RFK Center's Speak Truth to Power Curriculum website for an anti-bullying lesson plan featuring Nabozny.)
"Everyone has a part in this, but students have the biggest part," said Nabozny, who won a $900,000 settlement in a landmark lawsuit against his former school district in Wisconsin over years of physical and emotional abuse he suffered from bullying by classmates, even as administrators knew of the abuse and did nothing.
The forum was sponsored by NYSUT, United University Professions and several organizations on campus that deal with community service and social justice. UUP member Tom Matthews, associate dean of leadership and service at Geneseo, was a key organizer. Workshop leaders who drove home the message that change has to be driven by students themselves were striking a strong, powerful note, Matthews said.
"The only way we're going to change the culture is at a peer level," he said.