The Patriot In-depth: Uncovering the destructive effects of bullying
Drained of all energy and weighted down with school work, getting out of bed in the morning was already more difficult than Emma ever imagined, but once her friends stopped talking to her and the bullying began, the hard became impossible. Her social life at school had been completely turned upside down. For her, there was no getting out of bed.
The majority of absentee days Emma had were not sick days.
“Most of those days were days where I was just like, I can’t get out of bed and I can’t do this,” Emma said.
Though Emma is not her real name, she is a real JC junior who has been hurt by bullying, but wishes to remain anonymous.
“All this social stuff made me not want to go to school every day, and I like going to school. I like John Carroll and I like the environment, but when you feel like your friends don’t want to be around you and you don’t know what you did to make it that way, it hurts a lot more and it’s harder to get out of bed in the morning,” she said.
Bullying at JC
“I am sitting there thinking, okay well this will never get better. This is never going to get better. I’m a horrible person and everything is going wrong and I can’t do this,” Emma said.
When Emma enters “panic mode,” these are the thoughts that race through her mind.
Emma describes being bullied in school over the course of freshman and sophomore year as a lot of “isolation.”
“I would go up and talk to someone and they either wouldn’t respond to me or they would respond to me with quick, short answers and then ignore me. You just get the vibe that they don’t want you around,” Emma said.
She knew that there was a lot of verbal bullying going on behind her back anonymously in addition to bullying to her face. Though Emma wasn’t bullied until high school, this was not the first time she had come to feel alone.
“I’ve always kind of been a little odd,” she said. “I think I was always considered a little antisocial. I felt really, really alone, and the only people that I really talked to were people who talked to me because they were in my same situation. They just didn’t know who else to go to,” Emma said.
Freshman year, Emma said she found a group of friends she really felt she belonged with.
“I felt like I was actually coming to be someone who was comfortable with people,” she said, “ but I guess being new to the whole idea of being in a group of friends I didn’t realize there was all this drama involved and all these secrets, you know, just back talking and people not telling the truth.”
To Emma, who said she had been dealing with people ignoring her for her whole life, it was not just that her group of friends decided to ignore her.
“[In the past] it was always that I never got a chance, but when people give you a chance and then they decide to deny you friendship, it hurts a lot more, because you feel like they have analyzed your personality and said I just don’t like you,” Emma said.
Emma admitted to being insecure for most of her life, and she believes it has a lot of to do with her being a girl.
“I found I actually have a complex where I think most people I’m around don’t want me around,” she said.
At the end of last year, Emma said she “just cracked, because I couldn’t handle it on my own anymore. I literally felt like there was nobody to turn to.” This was around the time she finally told her mom. She said her mom made her understand this is “not normal for a teenager.”
Zero Tolerance Policy
In response to bullying at JC, each grade started out the school year with an orientation, where the faculty talked about the bullying program as well as other issues in order to help students like Emma. Guidance counselor Larry Hensley stated in this meeting that there will be a zero tolerance policy stating that bullying of any kind would not be tolerated.
The policy is simple: if the faculty hears about any bullying, they will take the matters into their own hand and force it to be stopped, going to levels of expulsion for the bully or having charges pressed against them. The counselors will have support services in line for students being bullied, or they can give them information for more serious services including therapy.
“This year, no bullying has been recorded so far. And I believe it is because we had these talks. I feel like I get a different sense from the building,” Hensley said.
According to Hensley, the zero tolerance policy began last year because of “mean girls,” and they came up with a way to address and stop it because of its quick expansion.
“People would come up to me and say ‘I am leaving John Carroll because I am being bullied,’ and we had no idea. It is the stuff out there under the radar that we had no idea about,” Hensley said.
“All of our students have the right to feel safe, be happy, and to be successful,” Dean of Students Thomas Vierheller said.
This year Emma has been trying to take a new outlook on life. She doesn’t want to make it about retaliation and is trying to recognize people in her life that care about her.
“I needed to remember that I’m worth something, that it’s okay to be happy, which is something that I didn’t really remember last year at all,” Emma said.
People who are being bullied can go see guidance counselors, teachers, members of the administration, and friends. Deans may call students into their office and talk to them when they hear about bullying and will notify parents. Sometimes they will bring the bully and the victim together in a controlled environment with a guidance counselor to try to work things out.
“I think that what makes John Carroll special is the relationships students have with other students, students have with teachers, with advisors, with guidance counselors, and with the administration. Students feel safe at John Carroll. They know they can tell someone,” Vierheller said.
On the other hand, Emma said, “I don’t think in the near future this school will ever be a place where you can run around and say hi to this kid and say hi to this kid and not get a dirty look. There are always unspoken social rules, because its high school. There is nothing John Carroll can really do about that.”
Origins of Bullying
When Emma first started at JC, she liked the environment the teachers created.
“It was a very positive environment. People encouraged people who are different. Teachers were strange which made me feel more at home because I am strange,” she said.
The one thing she feels after her time here is that students are “very quick to judge” and “cliquey.”
“People are friendly and nice and if you want to go up and talk to someone who wasn’t part of your group of friends you can do that, and you’re not going to get shunned but you know you will never really be as close with them as they are with their friends,” Emma said.
One thing Emma admits is that “a lot of bullying that goes on is social things, things you can’t really do anything about.”
Vierheller reported that JC has about 40 different middle schools that students come from.
“A lot of the behavior is generated at these schools, and they bring it with them,” Vierheller said.
According to stopbullying.gov, the best way to stop bullying is to show that it is unacceptable. If it still continues, people must intervene immediately. It can’t be ignored.
Vierheller himself witnessed bullying in his own elementary, middle, and high schools. In a lot of cases, “I could have done something and didn’t,” Vierheller said. He encourages students not to be afraid to step up.
Hensley said, “We need everyone to stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’ Don’t be a bystander. Speak up. Stop it. You see it happening. It is your community, your school. Can you imagine how great it would be if we supported each other? Imagine where that could go.”
The administration implemented the zero tolerance policy because of the worldwide spread of bullying, which has led to suicides and school shootings. The faculty wanted to be strict about their policy because they believe a school shooting could happen anywhere.
According to Principal Madelyn Ball, the administration has talked about their current bullying policy. With all of the recent school shootings, “every school started questioning their policy. The Archdiocese came out with online forms to report bullying, so when the handbook comes in we will be discussing that with students.”
Unlike other schools, “we aren’t going to install metal detectors. With us being a faith based school, we have opportunities to be more personal and know if somebody is seriously troubled. Bullying is one of the hardest things to enforce because we often don’t find out until it’s too late,” Ball said.
According to Director of Facilities Stewart Walker, “we have an established emergency response plan that’s modeled after those of the Harford County Public School System. It’s a branch type of plan that involves various scenarios. It used to be a color coded system, but now it’s a simplified plan for evacuation and shelter.”
During the recent fire drill, students made it out of the building in record time. Silence during the drill was more strictly enforced so that teachers and administration could have control of students. For Vierheller, it is important for people to be able to hear the directions being given. Vierheller prides the students on their behavior during the drill and how smoothly it went.
“I think after the Perry Hall shooting the students have a different perspective. It’s not just time out of class,” he said.
The plan’s last major revision was in 2010. This time, according to Walker, “because of cultural changes and the ability to respond, we will be working with the Bel Air police, department of security, and fire department among many others to develop our new plan.”
“We have plans to evacuate both on and off campus. It’s a challenging and complicated process, yet a critical necessity,” Walker said.
Walker said that sometimes the best form of prevention is knowing basic strategies to keep students safe. “Notice people in the hallways as to whether they are wearing badges or a uniform, follow basic protocols, and use common sense. Don’t leave doors propped open and take notes and report suspicious behavior. If something is out of place in our daily routine, we will notice it.”
Recovering from bullying
For Emma, this past summer was an opportunity for her to think about herself and her life.
“If I’m acting as I am as a person and I’m being courteous and being a decent human being and [people] don’t accept me for that, it’s not my fault. It has taken me a really long time to actually come to terms with that,” Emma said.
She says she know there are “probably some words being said behind my back,” but understands she needs to be happy with herself and those who care about her.
“You get to a point in your life where you’re comfortable being yourself and knowing that that girl doesn’t like you and she’s probably complaining about you to her friends, but if you’re not deliberately hurting her then there is no reason you should feel bad, ” Emma said.
Going into her junior year, Emma wants to focus on being friends with whomever she wants, talking to whomever she wants, and feeling comfortable with herself.
Emma said, “I felt really alone last year and then I sat down and realized how many people were in my life that weren’t necessarily part of that group of people, but still cared about me and wanted to be my friend and wanted me to be happy.”
Even though Emma knows she will still struggle with a lot of things, she likes to think that she has a brighter aspect on life.
“It has been a very long time since I have seriously considered doing anything drastic or something that I might regret,” she said.
Emma believes bullying and her negative thoughts can no longer take over her life. She wants people who are bullied to realize they can’t let it encompass their life.
“You have to take a step back and realize that it is not the only thing in your life, even if it is the most stressful thing or the most painful thing. There are other things that are going on that are there to help you. There are people there to help you. There are things there to help you, because sometimes when there is nothing you can do about it, ignorance is bliss.”
Emma has found that recovering from bullying is a long process. She learned she had to “find all the good things that were in her life” in order to “cope” with the things she will face.
Hope Kelly, Meredith Haggerty, and Lauren Fabiszak are In-depth editors for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.