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Editorial: Peers make strongest case against bullying

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THE practice of bullying has been an entrenched evil within our society for centuries.

Reaction to it has ranged from the absurd explanation that it is only a rite of passage into adulthood to the equally absurd advice that victims should “suck it up.”

In this century, society has come to recognize bullying for what it is — a destructive behavior that often produces tragic results.

Public relations campaigns have been developed, institutions such as schools have developed specific programs and guidelines for dealing with both the bullies and their victims, and police and the courts have come to look upon the more extreme acts of bullying as crimes.

Awareness has been raised, but under the official facade of zero tolerance adopted in so many communities, bullying continues.

An extreme instance of this was recorded earlier this month in Columbus when a Central Middle School student was punched and kicked repeatedly by another youth in an off-campus incident that was just a block from the school.

What is almost as appalling as the incident itself was the fact that it was recorded on video by a third youngster and witnessed by at least two others. On the video, the victim is seen being punched in the head, face and upper body at least 20 times.

The victim was able to return to classes the day after the incident, and the assailant was arrested the same day.

This physical attack is but one instance of bullying. It takes many other forms, some involving words and taunts that can be just as damaging as physical blows. It also has spread into technology, with bullies using the Internet and social networking sites to inflict their pain.

The Central Middle School incident serves to underline the difficulties communities such as Columbus face in changing the societal mindset about this topic. While the damage inflicted would appear to be obvious, many adults are frustrated in their efforts to bring it to an end. Leaders in Bartholomew Consolidated schools have placed a high priority on ending bullying, an effort that must continue to be emphasized, both within and outside of the corporation.

The good news is that locally, a movement is spreading to bring about an end to this horrible practice.

It is being led by students throughout local schools.

One of those students — Central Middle School eighth-grader Cam Thomason — was so affected by the attack on one of his schoolmates that he teamed with a friend — Gunnar Matthews — to start an anti-bullying group through Facebook.

The effort met with instant success with more than 3,000 Facebook users signing onto the project within the first three days of the initial posting. Many of those who joined were adults; but even more importantly, a great number were also students.

The Thomason-Matthews Facebook group is but one of a number of student-led anti-bullying initiatives to be introduced locally. Last year students at Columbus North High School created a discussion group called Spectrum in an effort to encourage individuals to talk to others about their personal concerns. In a number of those testimonies, victims of bullying related how the ability to talk with their peers about the issue had helped them deal with the problem. The project was developed by North graduate Holli Hauersperger as a senior project.

At Columbus East, earlier this year, sophomore Lexi Jackman-Wheitner formed the school’s gay-straight alliance. The intent was to provide a safe setting in which gay students and straight friends who support them could share their problems.

The power of these student-led initiatives is that they are peer-driven. This is not a group of adults trying to solve the problems of youth but young people working together and drawing their peers into environments where they do not feel pressured to behave in a negative manner.

In many cases it will require the young people to stand up to others — actions that require considerable courage but are more easily accomplished in the company of those who share their beliefs.

In the end, this kind of positive peer pressure just might be the most powerful weapon society has against bullying.

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