Scrolling Headlines:

UMass hockey competes hard, falls to No. 10 Providence College in overtime -

February 26, 2017

Overtime goal hands UMass hockey its 15th straight loss in regular season finale -

February 26, 2017

Former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous gives talk at UMass -

February 25, 2017

Anti-racism workshop teaches tactics to fight oppression in community -

February 25, 2017

Providence power play haunts UMass hockey in 6-2 loss -

February 25, 2017

UMass hockey falls to No. 10 Providence on Senior Night at the Mullins center -

February 25, 2017

UMass men’s basketball falters in the second half, falling to George Washington 83-67 Thursday -

February 24, 2017

UPDATE: SGA announces second and third artist for ‘Mullins Live!’ -

February 23, 2017

Divest UMass and STPEC host panel on building ‘solidarity economies’ in the Trump era -

February 23, 2017

UMass women’s basketball losing streak extends to 10 games after loss to URI -

February 23, 2017

Sixth annual Advocacy Day set to take place March 1 -

February 23, 2017

Panel discusses racial, sexual and psychological violence in response to art exhibit -

February 23, 2017

Judy Dixon enters final season with UMass tennis with simple message: One match at a time -

February 23, 2017

UMass baseball enduring early-season limitation in playing in New England -

February 23, 2017

Minutewomen softball begins season with cross-country travel, string of tournaments -

February 23, 2017

UMass baseball looks to bounce back from disappointing 2016 season -

February 23, 2017

UMass women’s lacrosse senior Hannah Murphy is Angela McMahon’s latest legend in the making -

February 23, 2017

UMass women’s lacrosse senior defenders accept leadership roles in quest for ninth consecutive Atlantic 10 Championship -

February 23, 2017

Kelsey McGovern rejoins UMass women’s lacrosse as an assistant coach after starring for Minutewomen -

February 23, 2017

UMass men’s lacrosse looks to continue improving throughout 2017 season -

February 23, 2017

‘Bullying bill’ foolhardy attempt to stop student battles

Up until Jan. 14, Phoebe was a sweet, pretty freshman at South Hadley High School. That was the day she hung herself in her closet after being relentlessly bullied by her fellow students.

Tragically, hers isn’t the only recent suicide-by-bully case in Massachusetts. Carl Walker – Hoover of Springfield killed himself last spring after months of anti-gay taunting at his school – at the age of only 11.

These incidents have resulted in an outpouring of anger and frustration from the community. Local parents have demanded accountability as school systems have done everything in their power to duck it. Meanwhile, Massachusetts lawmakers have dealt with the problem in the only way they know how – by attempting to make new laws.

Except none of these things – especially not the anti-bullying legislation proposed before the Joint Committee on Education – are helping the matter. Mainly because laws against bullying are, and always will be, doomed to fail. “Forty-four states expressly ban bullying…yet few if any of those measures have identified children who excessively pick on their peers,” reported the Associate Press on Sept. 14, 2009. Studies have not shown these laws to be an effective method of dealing with the problem.

When someone in our society has been wronged, it’s natural for us to look for someone to punish. “When South Hadley authorities find the girls who drove Phoebe Prince to take her own life, they should prosecute them. Stop pretending they’re just cruel and nasty girls being girls. They’re criminal torturers,” wrote Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan on Jan. 26.

But Eagan’s wrong. The terms “criminal” and “torturer” have very specific definitions, while “bullying” is a subjective act that’s defined solely by how it makes an individual feel. After all, what exactly is bullying? Is it a shove on the playground? A snide laugh in the locker room? A nasty look in the hallway? Depending on who you ask, it could be none of these things – or all three.

The slipperiness of the definition makes anti-bullying laws difficult to legislate and even harder to enforce. Teasing, mocking and general meanness are all based on individual perception. Furthermore, criminalizing these actions could have a significant chilling effect on free speech in school.

The way to help students like Phoebe is not to criminally prosecute bullies, but instead to reach out to those who are being bullied. It isn’t the cruel words that drive these young people to suicide – it’s how they emotionally interpret these words.

We already have the infrastructure to prevent these teen suicides, but it’s clearly not being implemented correctly.

The first thing that failed Phoebe was the legal system. Some reports have claimed that the actions against her went further than mere bullying and delved into the realm of harassment and physical assault. If this is true, then she should have been protected under our existing laws. This doesn’t mean that we need additional legislation. We need better enforcement of the old ones.

The second failure was the apparent lack of people in the school district who were there for Phoebe. A lot of the bullying allegedly took place at the high school – but where were the guidance counselors and school psychologists in this situation? Don’t the taxpayers hire these people in order to prevent tragedies like this one? Instead of lobbying for new laws, community members should be demanding that these school employees fulfill the responsibilities that they are already tasked with. Not only should they have intervened to help Phoebe, they should have also stepped forward to help the clearly troubled teens who were bullying her.

Perhaps the most important step in eliminating these incidents falls onto the shoulders of the parents. It’s not only the parents of bullied students who should take a more active role in their childrens’ lives – the parents of the bullies have a responsibility to their kids as well. Traits that are crucial for well-adjusted teens – such as kindness, empathy and self-confidence – are all taught and nurtured at home.

Unless we solve the problems in our current system, there’s no point in creating new laws that will likely run into the same roadblocks. Legislation can’t make us better people. It can’t stop us from being mean, getting offended or feeling insecure. That ability lies in us, and to a lesser extent in our teachers, in our parents and in our friends.

The truth is, the entire community bears a portion of the responsibility for the death of Phoebe Price and other teens like her. If the suffering of these students went unspotted in the classroom and at the dinner table, what makes us believe it would get noticed all the way from Beacon Hill?

Alana Goodman is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at agoodman@student.umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “‘Bullying bill’ foolhardy attempt to stop student battles”
  1. Ed Cutting says:

    Chapter 119 of the Massachusetts General Laws:

    Section 51A. (a) A mandated reporter who, in his professional capacity, has reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering physical or emotional injury resulting from: (i) abuse inflicted upon him which causes harm or substantial risk of harm to the child’s health or welfare, including sexual abuse; (ii) neglect, including malnutrition; or (iii) physical dependence upon an addictive drug at birth, shall immediately communicate with the department orally and, within 48 hours, shall file a written report with the department detailing the suspected abuse or neglect.

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