Wva Nonprofit Seeks To Educate People About Bullying

FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — A Marion County, West Virginia, nonprofit wants to empower others about how to identify and stand up against bullying.

Communities of Shalom Certified Prevention Specialist Renee Verbanic presented the workshop “Bullying Prevention: Empowering Bystanders to be Upstanders” at a meeting of the Fairmont Human Rights Commission recently. The interactive presentation focused on how to identify bullying and how to be a better ally.

“This affects us commissioners because there are residents within Marion County that are being treated unfairly and there are students within the Marion County school system that do not feel safe attending school. Also, there are students and parents within Marion County that feel there is no justice for the wrongs that are being done to them,” Human Rights Commission member Tiffany Walker Samuels said.

Verbanic started by breaking down myths associated with bullies and bullying. For example, hitting your bully to make them stop, which is something that people have often considered effective, can actually just cause a bully to become worse, she said.

“One of the myths we have about bullies — whether they’re an adult or a kid — is that they have low self esteem. ... That’s a myth. Bullying behavior is about intentional power — either emotional, physical or social power,” Verbanic said.

She covered how bullies can become bullies — which includes risk factors from family and peers, demographics, cyberbullying — and reasons people report being bullied, the top reason being the way they look or their body size.

Participants looked at a list of eight options on what to do to help assist someone who is being bullied and were asked to pick their first and last option. Verbanic had participants share their answers.

The options included, tell an adult, ask the bully a question, tell the bully to stop, support the target privately, support the target publicly, don’t stand around and watch. Move, talk your concerns out with a friend and don’t laugh with or empower the bullying behavior.

“I’m going to support the target publicly. Having been in a situation similar, I want other people to know that I’m supporting that individual,” participant Cathy Reed said.

Then, Verbanic discussed with participants the characteristics of passive, proactive and bullying behaviors and that often the proactive person can be blamed for being the bully. She touched on implicit bias or ‘knee jerks’ and how to be aware of harassing behavior by acknowledging times participants had been bullies or bystanders, which is also known as the “Window Activity.”

She also explained the importance of doing something productive, regardless of whether people may think you are being a “snitch.”

“Remember, in the war in Iraq, one brave American soldier came forward and said atrocities are happening there by American soldiers, they investigated and a whole outcry against that one soldier — not only by veterans, but by other American citizens — calling him a snitch,” Verbanic said.

Some of the participants expressed that it’s important to keep the conversation going and that having workshops like this one is something they look forward to do in the future, as they get back into the swing of things as the COVID-19 pandemic lessens.

“It’s not, to me, a one-time event tonight; it needs to be a continued conversation because that’s how that practice becomes permanent,” participant Jim Norton said.