When it comes to confronting bullying and harassment in schools, students have the power. That was the message behind a forum for students from across the Portland metropolitan area, sponsored by the Region X Equity Assistance Center at Education Northwest in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office–District of Oregon, Stand for Courage, and the Oregon Department of Education (ODE).
More than 80 students and educators gathered at the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse on April 4 for a full day of speakers, workshops, skits, and planning sessions. After a welcome message from Joyce Harris of Education Northwest and an introduction from Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, the student mentors from Stand For Courage performed a skit about ways to respond to bullying at school. “Being a bully doesn’t make you a bad kid,” said Kathryn, a Youth Advisory Board member, “but it does mean that you’re hurting others.”
Students were reminded that addressing bullying and harassment in schools takes more than just peer-to-peer intervention techniques; they need to know their rights and when to seek adult help. “What should your school be doing to protect you?” asked Winston Cornwall of ODE. He outlined the ways students are protected under the law and gave them tips for dealing with administrators and officials. Later in the day, the students used his definitions to edit their own school handbooks, making sure they included information on hate crimes, protected classes, and harassment that might occur on the way to and from school as well as on campus.
The theme of the forum was power, and participants held up signs that said “Power Moment” and “You Have the Power” throughout the day.
At one point, Cornwall asked students to stand if they’d seen or experienced bullying so far at school this year: all students in the room rose to their feet. This led to a conversation about bystanders, accompanied by a clip from the 2012 film Bully. Students observed how group behavior can inadvertently encourage harassment. “If you have the power to keep it going,” said one, “you have the power to stop it.”