Cyclist Lance Armstrong, who finally admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, agreed in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey that he was a bully. Armstrong acknowledged bullying trainers, teammates and others. He called them names and his behavior had a negative impact on their careers.
Bullying has made the news in more ordinary behavior, mostly at schools. Primary and secondary students have been called names or physically bruised because of various reasons — their physical appearance, their height, weight, hair color, financial status. Perhaps they chose band or theater instead of the glorified sports world; or had a different sexual orientation.
In a nutshell, they were different.
Bullying has consequences. In extreme situations, students who’ve faced harassment and abuse as a result of social media postings have committed suicide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide among young people is the third leading cause of deaths in the United States, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year. The CDC also reports that one in seven students, or 14 percent of high school students, have just thought of ending their lives, and 7 percent have actually attempted it.
Bullying plays a significant role in these tragedies. According to the Youth
Suicide Prevention Program, there is an increased risk for suicide because of bullying behavior. “Yes, being a victim, perpetrator or even a witness to bullying has been associated with multiple behavioral, emotional and social problems, including an increase for suicidal ideation,” the YSPP states.
ABC News recently reported that nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of a fear of bullying. Society has a big problem, one that school districts throughout Texas and the country are working to combat.
Since Sept. 1, Texas school districts, including those in Hays County, have been operating under comprehensive anti-‐bullying policies.
The new law allows districts to transfer a bully to another class or school.
Tracking bullying incidents has its challenges, as criteria are still being developed to differentiate between bullying, harassment or what some people have dismissed simply as childish behavior.
Regardless of the severity of the incident, bullying is a problem everywhere, and a group of public relations students at Texas State University is in the middle of a campaign to educate the school community — students, teachers and parents — about bullying. It’s called “Be the Difference” and it promotes the idea that it’s okay to be different.
Texas State senior Lizzie Velasquez has become a leading voice in the fight against bullying. Lizzie is different because she has a condition that keeps her from gaining weight. She weighs a little over 60 pounds and has zero body fat, despite being a self-proclaimed junk food addict. She is a beautiful person and has written books about her experiences with her disease, “Lizzie Beautiful,” and “Be Beautiful, Be You.”
While in high school, Lizzie was subjected to cyber bullying. On YouTube, an eight-second video was titled “The World’s Ugliest Woman.” Anonymous people attacked her through this social media platform. The video went viral, attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers. Viewers called her an “it,” a “monster.” One comment suggested that she should kill herself.
Despite the horrific words, Lizzie has found strength from such hatred, such bullying. Now a motivational speaker, she confidently discusses her uniqueness. She tells audiences, “I’m Lizzie, maybe you should stop staring and start learning.”
Bullying must be acknowledged as a societal problem that hits home, and it must be confronted. As our campaign suggests, you can “Be the Difference.” With the help of the San Marcos community, we can fight this problem.
Bullying really is a matter of life and death.
Seth Schoolcraft is a senior public relations student at Texas State University and a member of the school’s national PRSSA Bateman National Case Study Competition. For more information about the campaign, visit http://bethedifference2013.wordpress.com/