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Morgan Spurlock stars in WVBully-Free PSA

Watch WVBullyFree PSA!

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Watch WVBullyFree PSA!

The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU of WV) and Fairness West Virginia (Fairness WV) proudly presents a new Public Service Announcement (PSA) in hopes to increase public education about the dangerous reality of bullying in West Virginia. The PSA, which is the capstone of “WV Bully Free,” is narrated by West Virginia filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me, Where in The World is Osama bin Laden) and recounts the real life experience of Matthew, a student from St. Albans, West Virginia.

Matthew’s story is shocking but not uncommon.   He like many youth was the victim of bullying based on his sexual orientation.  According to a 2009 school climate survey conducted by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), two out of three students felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation.  Yet until this school year the documentation of bullying based on sexual orientation was non-existent.

“Fairness West Virginia is so proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the ACLU of West Virginia to loudly say to all children, parents, and educators of this state, bullying in our schools, on our playgrounds, and in our communities, is not acceptable anymore, for any reason including that which has been so viciously directed towards these kids who are or are perceived to be gay,” said Fairness West Virginia Board President Dr. Coy Flowers.  “All children, straight or gay, deserve to achieve an education safe from harm and free from bullying.”

“With the passage of a new school board policy last December which allows for the documentation of bullying based on sexual orientation, we can now begin to honestly address the reality of LGBT bullying,” said ACLU of WV Executive Director Brenda Green. “Every student has the right to feel safe at school.”

The ACLU of West Virginia and Fairness would like to extend special thanks to the PSA’s production team, which includes Jon Matthews (writer, director), and producers, Karen McIntyre, Paige Hill, and Maddy Yasner.  Additional thanks go to Michael Lipton and Tristram Lozaw for producing the music.



The Stars of the Show

Last week we talked about the different roles that people take on in a typical bullying incident.Students can be bullies, supporters, bystanders, upstanders, or targets. (It is worth mentioning that when a larger cast is involved, many researchers identify up to nine or ten different roles, but I think it’s good to keep it simple.) The stars of the show, the bully and the target, merit some additional discussion.


So what do you think a bully looks like? Does a physically large and arrogant man come to mind? This description may indeed fit some bullies, but for others it does not fit at all. Both boys and girls bully, and they may have good or bad self-images.Students who bully come from all kinds of home situations, from kind and loving to miserable and neglecting. Anyone can be a bully; unfortunately, we are all capable of acting in a way that makes someone feel unwanted or less than human.


Passive targets are what most people think of when they imagine a person who has been bullied. They are the polar opposite of the stereotypical bully- small, weak, and unassertive. In reality, passive victims, just like bullies, come in all shapes and sizes.

Targets are not always passive victims! Although some victims of bullying tend to bottle things up and internalize their anger, others are quite different. Some targets, provocative targets, adopt poor coping strategies that tend to make the problem worse. Other even assume the role of bully themselves and become bully-victims

Provocative targets of bullying adopt negative coping behaviors either because they were never taught how to cope properly or because they are unable to do so. Students who fall within the autism spectrum or who have Attention Deficit Disorder are especially likely to become provocative targets; these students typically lack conventional social skills and as such are already prone to isolation from others. Provocative targets need to be positively affirmed and connected with people who can model appropriate coping strategies. 


The Bullying Cast

In all incidents of bullying, students can assume a variety of roles. Everyone knows about the student who bullies and the one who is victimized. These are the starring roles in a cruel play that many kids act out every day. However, in addition to these stars, there is a whole cast of supporting actors.

First, the bully has supporters who join in and mimic his behavior. (Not all supporters want to achieve the starring role, but practice does make perfect).

Bystanders also play very significant roles in bullying incidents. These students passively support the bully by providing the audience he desires. Their inaction implies approval of the unrelenting, unwanted, and unequal behavior of their peers.

The final and most significant role belongs to the person who stands up and supports the bullying victim in some way. These “upstanders” steal the show and always deserve a standing ovation!

It is important to think of bullies, supporters, bystanders, upstanders, and targets as being roles in a play. With a simple costume change, students can perform any one of these parts. By helping students rehearse to be upstanders, they can be ready to steal the show and be a friend to bullying targets when the curtain rises. The video below shows how a bystander can make a difference.


What’s The Difference?

The topic of bullying is often discussed together with the similar social problems of discrimination and harassment. These three issues are very alike; they are all byproducts of people unscrupulously attempting to control others. However, there are some key differences.

When someone is harassed, there may be a consistent pattern of behavior, or there may only be a single offensive action. Discrimination, on the other hand, occurs when people are treated differently because they belong to a certain class of people. Thus, if a person is generally horrible to everyone, they are not discriminating; they are harassing and/or bullying. Bullying is different because it requires a pattern of behavior. In short, harassment requires that action be offensive, discrimination requires that people be treated differently, and bullying requires a repeated negative behavioral pattern.

Schools can act on bullying and harassment if there is a physical or emotional threat or the learning environment is otherwise disrupted. The full definition for action can be found in West Virginia Code Annotated §18-2C-3.

It is possible for a case of bullying to not include a physical or emotional threat, but unlikely. Inherently, the recurring inappropriate behavior and inequality that constitutes bullying is a physical or mental threat to victims’ well-being. Furthermore, such behavior is highly likely to negatively affect the academic performance of bullying victims, and thus constitutes a disruption of the learning environment. 

Even though the definition of bullying that schools must use is not the same as the one we discussed last week, it does a decent job of preparing schools to successfully intervene in bullying incidents.

Keeping Bullying in Check

Many schools struggle to monitor bullying. Due to its very nature, it can be incredibly difficult to track. Often incidents appear to be minor, and consequently are permitted to morph into everyday occurrences. Thus, it is common for incidents of bullying to go unnoticed. Regrettably, when schools actually do document incidents, they frequently write up the perpetrators but leave the actual victims off the record. Because of the lack of victim documentation, it can be difficult for schools to recognize that the same students are victimized repeatedly.

Happily, schools have the capability to identify students who are being bullied through a component of the West Virginia Informational Education Information System (WVEIS). This system was created by the West Virginia Department of Education for school districts to use for student records. It is an excellent program that schools should fully utilize.







10-22 Monday Memo: Fairness WV’s Conference

For the week of October 22nd the three things you need to know are all about Fairness WV’s annual conference on November 10th at the Charleston Civic Center.

First thing you should know is that bullying is not the only experience of teenagers that struggle with their orientation or identity. Homelessness, suicide, substance abuse, and family rejection are common experiences for young adults finding themselves. Learn about these increased risk factors during an all conference panel featuring prevention experts and youth leaders.

Second thing you should know is that student’s who form support networks and gay-straight alliances (GSA) make a powerful difference in building resiliency and making their schools safer. High school GSA leaders and faculty advisers lead a breakout session about how these groups can make a difference.

Third thing you should know is that the early registration ends this Friday. If you want to learn more about how to plan to make a difference, register today!