On Monday, World Day of Bullying Prevention and the “Bullying Prevention Day” proclaimed by the Tompkins County Legislature, students, parents and activists gathered in the Greater Ithaca Area Activities Center to call for awareness of the consequences and solutions to bullying.
The rally featured student speeches and performances by GIAC student groups, including dances and raps written by the students. Attendees wore blue shirts which read “Wash Away Bullying.”
According to The Sophie Fund’s website, a non-profit mental health advocacy group based in Tompkins County, in the 2016-2017 school year, almost one in five American high school students experience bullying at school — that is 22.3 percent of high school girls and 15.6 percent of high school boys. This number is one in three for LGBTQ+ students. Cyberbullying also occurred at a slightly lower percentage of 14.9 percent.
“Look at the students around you,” said Kerry Phillips, deputy director of GIAC. “One out of five of them will be bullied this year.”
The County legislature’s proclamation, which was read at the rally, says that everyone “can play a part in creating a bully-free environment in our schools, athletic fields, public spaces and online.”
The proclamation and rally were the result of the efforts of the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force, a group of individuals from schools, mental health organizations and the broader Tompkins County community who first convened last January with the goal of starting an anti-bullying initiative. Since January, the group has grown from nine to 88 individuals.
The Task Force’s mission is to facilitate comprehensive cooperation across the community in developing and promoting appropriate bullying prevention and response strategies in Tompkins County.”
A contributor to the founding of the Task Force was Scott MacLeod, a co-founder of the Sophie Fund. “Our main goal is just to stimulate discussions across the county, whether that’s at school, around the dinner table at home,” MacLeod said. “A lot of people are aware that bullying happens, but maybe aren’t as aware as they need to be of the consequences of bullying, which can be quite serious.”
Ithaca Police Chief Dennis Nayor, who attended the rally at GIAC, reiterated this point, saying that bullying can cause long-lasting struggles in people’s lives.
“Some of the issues we see later on in people’s lives like criminal activity could be rooted in a person’s experiences being bullied,” Nayor said. “We at the police department are committed to trying to find solutions, and we’re open to being a resource to that.”
Nayor also stressed that cyberbullying means that bullying no longer “ends when the school day does.” In his speech at the rally, Nayor encouraged victims of bullying to contact police if they need help.
“We’re trying to tackle it positively by talking about mutual respect, showing kindness for one another,” said Phillips. “There are people that we need to help.That is part of out message. One of the first steps is using your voice to speak up.”