Schools and Anti-Bullying

1 Mar, 2021

I was fortunate enough to have a zoom chat with an incredible woman named Erika Smith. Erika has worked in schools for over 5 years in Niagara. In addition to teaching at the high school level, Erika is a social justice advocate heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. We spoke about Anti-Bullying week earlier in the year and when pink shirt day just recently past it made sense to post now.   For me I was curious,
what  does happen in schools around anti-bullying? I know for my daughter and son,  I feel like there remains many gaps around addressing and preventing bullying. So, Erika shared some of her experiences and knowledge working in the school system to help shine some light on gaps and potential improvements.
Erika has worked in the schools for some time and although she has worked in the primary ages briefly, she has focused her career on working in Secondary schools. When I asked Erika the following questions, here is a synopsis of some of the conversation:

What do you know about Bullying awareness and prevention week?
There are usually posters and an assembly in the schools. Erika expressed that it can be difficult however to get a full understanding on the steps that are taken at the board level if you are not on a committee that focuses on planning events for that week.

Have you seen bullying take place between students?
Erika shared that yes, she does see bullying. Erika  will address bullying in her class as it comes up. One example was of a student making fun of the LGBTQ2s+ community. Often times, when bullying is called out the child who is targeted will say it is “fine” or that they are ok with it. I would imagine this is due to safety. Erika shared that she helps to build that safety while holding the student accountable by stating even if the student says  they are ok with it, she will make it clear that she isn’t ok with the discrimination  and that behavior isn’t tolerated in the spaces she teaches in.

When I asked Erika if she has witnessed bullying between teachers or from teachers to students, she shared a story of starting a new role at a school. For context, she is a black, female, math teacher (Lets all just pause here to take in the smashing of glass ceilings) She had a question about some of the material for her class so Erika asked another teacher for clarity. His response was condescending, belittling and disrupted any attempt to foster safety for a new teacher to feel welcomed. When she reached out to another peer, Erika’s colleague stated that she has had similar experiences when she  turned to this teacher for support as well.

When asked about gender differences, it was clear that students who had been pushed to the margins by society were targeted and bullied at higher rates than those that were born with privilege.

One statement that Erika made regarding the issues of bullying was that “working in a high school is like being in high school.” 

Erika shared that the board would be moving forward with their equity, inclusion and diversity committee which would help to address some of the underlying issues with racism, discrimination, homophobia, and ableism. Erika expressed her optimism regarding the table and the changes that would come at the board level.

For me as a parent and expert in human trafficking, Erika’s experience in the schools highlighted many systemic gaps as it relates to prevention and support. With the consistent cuts to education and the lack of consistent accountability around discrimination of teachers and students, I sense that the money being given for education and prevention in schools for human trafficking, is simply a band-aid solution. 

Again, with women and girls being left out of priority conversation tables in the boards, the voices of those who are made to be vulnerable by the system still are not being heard. 

There was an article released about 2 weeks ago that I will attach here that reports  alarming numbers regarding sexual violence students have experienced by teachers. I am aware there is education regarding consent and signs of trafficking but there are not (to my knowledge anyway) formalized procedures, policies, and accountability supporting survivors or those at risk. 

After chatting with Erika and reflecting on the experiences she shared, what again bubbled up for me is that like trafficking, sexual violence, and other crimes bullying is a symptom of patriarchy, colonization, and inequity. To make significant, meaningful, and sustainable changes we need address those very issues.

How do you feel your school boards are doing with Anti-bullying campaigns?