Story by: Caroline Bowers and Jamie Cummings
“Bullying can take all kinds of forms, but in my mind, it’s any attempt to try to use fear or your position as a way to dominate other typically in a negative way,” A.P. United States History teacher Robert Browning said. “Maybe the methodology has changed over time, but the actual psychological process hasn’t changed at all.”
After recently seeing the effects of bullying within a school in Buncombe County, Browning became very vocal on the subject, sending an email to his students explaining the event he observed and encouraging students to come to him as a source of support.
During his years of teaching at Roberson, he has seen bullying transform from one-on-one confrontations to online encounters.
“People are using social media, in particular Twitter, as forms of quick, pseudo-anonymous communication and a way to be able to convey that sense of dominance,” Browning said. “One difference in using any electronic form is that there is always going to be a trail. You can delete a text or post all you want, but there’s a record of it.”
Guidance Counselor Melanie Parham has also seen the shift to the use of social media as a way to gain more attention from an act of bullying.
“Through social media, students can now hide in plain sight, or they can gather a bigger audience. That really makes the victim feel very bad. It traps you in that moment,” Parham said.
According to a study by the National Bullying Prevention Center, 19.6 percent of teens were bullied online in 2014. Additionally, the center predicts that one in four students will be bullied this year alone.
A new form of bullying, or potential bullying, can come in the form of ‘roasting.’ Merriam Webster Dictionary defines ‘roasting’ as a banquet honoring a person who is subjected to humorous tongue-in-cheek ridicule by friends. However, in today’s high school world, it can become more than just humorous ridicules that are easily blown off. As ‘roasting’ becomes a daily occurrence, students hear direct comments from their peers about their flaws or embarrassing traits in a joking manner.
“The problem comes when you say something in a potentially bullying way, you may not know how the recipient of that is going to take it,” Browning said. “The line of play and bullying can get crossed, and it becomes really gray. I can see where the act of roasting can lead to bullying. There has to be some level of mutual respect between those participating.”
Due to this increasing amount of blunt criticism and insults about personal characteristics or beliefs, ‘safe spaces’ have become popular across college campuses. These spaces are designed to provide students with a designated location in a calming environment if they feel diminished by certain comments. They were started to give people a place to come together to talk about their experiences with their recognized marginalization. In addition to on college campuses, the idea of ‘safe spaces’ is also being implemented in high schools across the country.
Although Roberson does not necessarily refer to them as safe spaces, counselors and teachers provide students with locations for the same ‘safe spaces’ to avoid confrontation.
“We definitely talk to students about safe spaces, especially during lunch. It’s just a very intimidating time for many, especially new students who don’t know anyone,” Parham said. “We have several groups of students who come in here and eat during lunch and other teachers who open their rooms and let students come in and have that safe space.”
Recently, however, safe spaces have received criticism for being contradicting to freedom of speech. Chapman University President, Jim Doti, is among those who opposed the increasing reactions that diminish the healthy exchange of ideas on college campuses. He argued that people are becoming too sensitive as they increasingly consider themselves victims when someone disagrees with him/her.
Others, like Browning, see problems rising from easier platforms, like social media, where anyone can share and view opinions.
“I don’t know whether or not it’s a case of us being more sensitive or if it’s a case that more people who previously possessed very little social power now feel empowered,” Browning said.
Browning, among others, offers support to those who feel bullied. Buncombe County Schools provides a lengthy anti-bullying policy, clearly stating what is or is not to be accepted. For those who do feel targeted, support can be found in any teachers with the “I am an ally” sign in their room or through the county’s bullying hotline, which can be reached at the number 225-5292. Reports can also be filed online through a report form.