At 66, Craig Abrahamson still remembers being bullied by a boy named Guss Floyd in the eighth grade.
“It is trauma, and victims of bullying will always remember,” said the psychology professor and professional clinician.
Tuesday night in Memorial Hall, the College of Education sponsored a screening of the documentary “Bully” and held a panel discussion afterwards.
The movie and the discussion revolved around the realities, the effects, the prevention and solutions for bullying. More than 400 attended the film, which followed six different bullied children from different parts of the U.S.. It also included scenes of adults getting bullied or sitting idle while kids were bullied.
Pavan Panjeti, a senior engineering major, said the movie made him remember a classmate in sixth grade who used to get bullied.
“I was a new kid in my school, and so was he,” Panjeti said, “I was better off not talking to him because it was safe. Seeing this movie really put a new spin on that situation.”
The movie also reminded Kelly Soderberg, senior English and SMAD double major, of her experiences with bullying. Soderberg, who identifies as bisexual, was bullied in high school when she came out her sophomore year of high school.
“What really hit me hard were the aspects of questioning identity,” Soderberg said. “I never wanted to dress girly, and one day a boy asked me if I was a boy or a girl. It’s stuff like that that really gets to you.”
At JMU, the Office of Judicial Affairs has a bullying policy. If a complaint is filed, the defendant must set a hearing date with a hearing officer. If the defendant is found guilty, he or she is issued a sanction, according to Angelina Sobel, a student office assistant at the Office of Judicial Affairs and junior finance major. Punishments generally include disciplinary probation and a required educational program.
Even with legal policies in place attempting to prevent it, bullying still goes on at JMU.
Abrahamson has counseled bullying victims before and said that victims suffer even years after they were bullied.
“They make lower grades in school, and they remain isolated and socially withdrawn, and they remember,” Abrahamson said.
Abrahamson said he experienced bullying as an adult when he was bullied by tenured employees in his early 20s. He said that ultimately, standing up for himself and building a support network of coworkers made the harassment stop.
Abrahamson said there are a number of clinical reasons why bullies victimize others.
“Kids bully because they have low self-esteem, because they feel inferior, and because they have a low sense of self-worth,” Abrahamson said. “Then they choose the kids who look weaker than them.”
Marieka Turner, a sophomore communications major and panel member, said she was one of those kids.
“I’m here because I would definitely like to see changes made so people don’t have to go through the same struggle that I went through in middle school,” Turner said.
Some of the questions during the discussion revolved around why students and adults allow their peers to be bullied. Panjeti said that people often just act as bystanders.
“You see someone being bullied, and everyone expects someone else to do something about it,” Panjeti said. “As a result, nobody does anything.”
The panel offered a solution to the bullying problem: change the power dynamic of the bully and the bullied. But according to panel member Hermelinda Cortes, the answer isn’t that simple. Cortes is one of the founding members of a LGBT support group in the surrounding valley called the Shenandoah Yes! Alliance.
“Bullying happens because of a lack of visibility,” Cortes said. “If you stay away from the ‘norm’ you become a target. But it is more complicated than just standing up for yourself. If you push back, they’ll just send you to the office.”
According to the panel, the Harrisonburg community needs visible support groups for victims of bullying.
“The solution is to tell your stories and to join in on the conversation,” Soderberg said.
Contact Mark Overstreet at firstname.lastname@example.org.