A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Bullying: It’s more complicated than you think


Two months ago, Keaton Jones brought bullying into the national spotlight. His heartbreaking video went viral and his words were shared by thousands across the country. Many celebrities spoke on the subject, including Chris Evans and Cardi B. Keaton was even covered on national TV. Finally, it seemed, the public was waking up to the reality of bullying and its dire consequences.

The entire movement was forgotten two weeks later.

How can an entire nation forget a movement so powerful and necessary to the wellbeing of its children?

Virality is one piece of the puzzle. Viral movements have short-lived airtime, as examined in  “The Surprisingly Short Life of Viral Social Movements” by Sander van der Linden of The Scientific American.

However, the issue of bullying has gone viral many times. There is more to the issue than the way in which its movements are constructed. Even when school districts lay out a very specific anti-bullying program, it inevitably fails.

Bullying is unsolvable because bullying doesn’t exist. This is true for two reasons. Firstly, bullying implies a two-way relationship that simply doesn’t exist in school.

Though we may have come to understand the issue more through widespread research, we still picture a confident jock beating up a helpless nerd.

This is the stereotype that has been promoted for decades, and it’s difficult to part with.

Our cultural conception of bullying necessitates an abuser and a victim. And that’s not how school works.

The fact is, anyone can be a bully, and everyone at one point or another, is a bully.

Reliance on social hierarchy reaches a peak in high school; every student attempts to validate their own self-worth by degrading others.

This is the nature of cliques. Students will exclude peers in order to maintain the uniformity of their clique. Compromising your clique compromises your status, which is why so many are willing to exclude.

However, singling out bullies won’t end any suffering because specific “bullies” aren’t the problem. The culture is the problem.

To see how treating bullying as an abuser and victim scenario makes matters worse, let’s look at the Los Angeles Unified School District’s “Bullying” Policy. Article V, part III – ‘Responding to Bullying and Hazing’ states, “A. Secure students safely,” “C. Obtain factual written statements from the involved parties and witnesses,” “K. Monitor to ensure the misconduct has ceased.”

None of these measures do anything to solve the issue.

Making sure the accuser is “safe” singles them out as a victim and moreover shows that they are incapable of handling their issues by themselves.

This isn’t to say that they should handle these issues by themselves, but the entire point of these regulations is to prevent bullying. Showing an accuser as both a victim and someone in need of protection only invites further mistreatment.

If an accuser must write a statement detailing their incident, as well call upon witnesses to corroborate this statement and force whoever mistreated them to detail their perspective in yet another statement, accusers will be much less likely to come forward.

Mandating these statements also informs other students about the accuser’s situation, which will sadly invite further mistreatment.

Finally, even if a student were to report the bullying and they were made safe after the incident, monitoring will not ensure future safety. They may still suffer at the hands of other students, and they may also cause suffering by their own volition.

This is how social circles work. They change and evolve — one single problem is unlikely to sustain throughout four years of high school, and even if it did, it clearly wouldn’t be the only problem present.

If students adhered to policy and came forward upon every instance of bullying, every student would eventually report each other. No school can monitor their entire population at all times.

If everyone is a bully, as everyone is, championing a system that is reliant on reports and accusations is ludicrous and completely counter-productive.

By implementing this system, you don’t solve bullying, you perpetuate it.  

So what should we do? Punish no one? This question brings us to the second and most important issue.

A line must be drawn between “bullying”, a behavior perpetuated by all students as a result of school culture, and harassment, which is illegal under any circumstances.

I used to think of teasing and exclusion when “bullying” was mentioned. That was the definition that prompted this article. The definition has been extended, however — schools now use the word to label hate crimes, physical harassment and verbal abuse.

Regarding the high-school sexual abuse scandal in La Vernia, Texas, boys who repeatedly harassed and raped their teammates are labelled “bullies.”

Though the article makes it clear that sexual assault can’t be boiled down to ‘hazing,’ as it was by the school’s administration, the fact that the word “bully” even appears in the article is troubling.

Bullying has become such an umbrella term that it now applies to any mistreatment that takes place among peers, which is ludicrous.

Illegal acts should be referred to and treated as what they are, crimes. Crimes that take place between peers are not any different than crimes committed outside the classroom.

How can school districts expect to solve a problem that ranges in definition from taunts and verbal abuse to physical harassment and rape?

When one word can connote both childish teasing and legitimate felonies, it ceases it be useful in any productive discourse.

If we want to improve the lives of our children, we need to treat teasing as teasing, treat harassment as harassment and treat abuse as abuse. We need to stop using a word that belittles and generalizes our children’s actions just because they’re children. We need to forget about “bullying.”

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