Today's column, to be repackaged over the next few days to promote the Dialogues event on Tuesday:
Have you ever been bullied? Not just now and then, but in a persistent, destructive way that went on for weeks, months or longer?
Have you ever bullied someone?
What did it feel like? How did you get over it, as a victim or as someone who bullied? Who helped you? How did it change you?
On Tuesday, we'll have a Post-Bulletin Dialogues community meeting about bullying -- what it is, how it's different and more destructive now, and what's being done, especially in our schools, to deal with it.
The Dialogues meeting will be at John Marshall High School and begins at 6:30 p.m. Note the change of location -- the monthly Dialogues meetings usually are at the Rochester Public Library, but with a larger-than-usual crowd expected, this one will be in the Rocket Center at JM.
The informal, 90-minute community forum will give you a chance to ask questions of people who know what bullying is about, how aggressive behavior and harassment at school has changed in the era of Internet, cellphones and social media, and what can be done to stop it.
Joining me at the head table will be Danielle Borgerson-Nesvold of the Austin-based organization Community Against Bullying; Vangie Castro, youth programs education manager for the Diversity Council and a member of the governor's task force; Rep. Debra Hilstrom of Brooklyn Center, a legislative leader on bullying and state law; and a few others, hopefully including a student who's involved in anti-bullying programs in Austin.
Danielle, of Community Against Bullying, will have information, wrist bands and other materials, and others are welcome to provide information as well. I'll have a handout with anti-buillying resources, web addresses and contact names and numbers for people who can help.
As always at our Dialogues meetings, we go light on speeches and spend most of the time taking questions and comments from the audience. There's never a shortage of questions, and on this topic, I can't imagine there'll be a shortage of comments.
I'll keep the focus on bullying at our Dialogues meeting all summer, and the program in late June will deal with the emotional and psychological toll that's taken by aggressive bullying -- I prefer the term harassment, especially as it often occurs in teen years. I'll announce the date and place of that program at Tuesday's meeting.
On Tuesday, the focus will be on defining what bullying is, how prevalent it is, and what's happening at the state level as well as in area schools to deal with it.
If you have questions or comments and you can't join us at JM on Tuesday, send me a note and I'll bring it with me to the meeting. If you have a personal story to tell about being bullied, either in the past or currently, share that in whatever detail you choose and we'll get your story out.
I've received more than a dozen harrowing stories from readers about their experience with bullying and I'll be posting those on my blog, Furst Draft.
As Gary Kadansky, the Christian youth leader and Rochester radio personality, said at an event in Kasson this week, there'll always be some bullying. There'll always be people who will tease and gossip and harass others, whether in middle school or beyond. But we can help those who are being harassed, immediately -- right now. We can respond to it immediately and make it stop.
We can speak up, first of all.
Teenagers can speak up for themselves and their friends. They can tell people they trust, and they have to believe that something will be done. Teens have to believe that their concerns won't be ignored or forgotten, that adults in charge are paying attention and will respond to bullying. Adults can provide real-world information, counseling and hope. We can expect true accountability and consequences when it comes to keeping our children safe and free from emotional as well as physical harm in schools.
That's not asking too much.
Bullying isn't just the pushing and gossiping you see in comic strips and sitcoms. It can be intensely personal and destructive, on social media and cellphones, on and off the school grounds -- and especially for young people at an incredibly vulnerable time in their lives.
We need to deal with it. Join us on Tuesday at JM as we talk more about how to make that happen.