Gelsey Carmichael - Mt. Edgecumbe

Essay Topic:  In schools, in the workplace, on television, even in our Congress, we see people intimidating, harassing, bullying, and victimizing others. How can you or how would you help to create a culture of tolerance where people cooperate, are respectful and kind to one another, and defend those who are being victimized or discriminated against?

I was very pleased to find that the topic of harassment/bullying is on the forefront of the Alaska Association of School Boards’ (AASB) concerns this year. I find it extremely disturbing that negative behavior is being demonstrated throughout the United States- from elementary schools to college campuses, from local streets to the halls of our nation’s capitol. The act of bullying, harassment, and the intolerance of others is plaguing our nation. I know the AASB is concerned about this issue because Hank Overturf, one of the AASB’s influential members, has been working with local school boards across the state using the School Connectedness Survey. This survey has been enlightening people around the state on how large a problem bullying seems to be in the eyes of Alaskan students. As one of those students, allow me to elaborate on my potential solution to this emerging problem.

On January 14, 2010 the United States of America was shocked by the tragic case of Phoebe Prince, a student at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts who took her own life after being bullied mercilessly by classmates. This is horrific, but is a realistic example of the affects bullying can instigate within school age children. Before this incident, only a small number of Massachusetts schools had policies which specifically defined bullying and the consequences of engaging in bullying. As a result of the publicity this case received, Governor Deval Patrick drafted new laws for this state that required all schools to file comprehensive anti-bullying plans in order to improve the protection of students. We cannot wait for another tragedy to occur. As an act of prevention, I encourage the Alaskan legislature to take the seriousness of harassment to heart and draft similar legislation. One life spared is worth it.

Unfortunately, adult harassment can be much more traumatic than what a child experiences. Consider the case of Chad Grumbling, a United States Postal Service worker who served in Modesto, California. Chad filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service after he was chased around the city of Modesto by co-workers who were threatening to kill him. Before this incident of barbarism, he received death threats by telephone. His work environment was unbearable because his fellow workers dumped Fruit Loops, Juicy Fruit, and gay pornography all around his work area. His associates would yell sexual epithets whenever he went to use the restroom at work. Chad Grumbling claimed that everyone in the post office knew these acts of torment happened. Not once did someone step forward to stop it. This illustrates a clear extension to the problem of bullying: it’s not limited to children in schools. Bullying, harassment, and the intolerance of others can be found in every aspect of our society, so it is in every aspect that we must attack it.

Even within the halls of Washington, DC., breaches of decorum and etiquette have recently occurred. During one of President Obama’s speeches to Congress, a member loudly called him a liar. During last year’s State of the Union address, a Supreme Court Justice disagreed, in front of the nation, with a statement the President made. These signs of disrespect challenge the measured, considered, and attentive listening to what others have to say. If not corrected, I believe the country is in a dire place. If elected officials-the chosen leaders of this country- cannot respectfully agree to disagree, how can students be expected to extend courtesy, tolerance, and acceptance towards one another?

I believe there are solutions for these problems, but that they will require major efforts in first educating people, then strongly enforcing new anti-bullying legislation which has yet to be drafted. This problem has reached such an altitude that a Constitutional amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America guaranteeing the rights of American citzens to be free from bullying may be necessary. On a smaller scale, school curricula focused on the civic responsibilities of Americans merged with socially acceptable minimums of behavior should be universally agreed upon and adopted throughout the country, then taught explicitly in schools. Will this take time? Yes; change requires time. We need to take the time, make the effort and spend the treasury that will allow us to transform the attitude of today to benefit the Americans of tomorrow. Remember, the last American slave died only 31 years ago. But, history has proven that mankind evolves. Let us evolve together, and move away from the hostility.