Dinosaur in orange Unity Day sweater.

When I was in elementary school, I was so excited to apply for a position on my school’s paleontology team. As a huge dinosaur fanatic – I had an entire tub of plastic herbivores and carnivores since age 3 – this was a way to learn all I could about these prehistoric beasts. The paper test to apply gently landed on my desk and I dove into a writing frenzy. I finished with flying colors in record time. Excited, I ran up to the teacher’s desk to turn in what I knew was a winning application. Dejected, I shuffled back to my chair after hearing another girl whisper, “Who would ever want to learn more about dinosaurs? Why bother – it’s beyond stupid.” 

I know that behind those hurtful words were probably hidden anxieties and worries and that the only thing that mattered was that I enjoyed and pursued my interests. The problem is, I know these things now; I did not know them well into my college career, let alone the single digit grades. 

Without guidance, the isolation those words signaled ground into my confidence and extroverted personality. It shaped a person who was more cautious and focused even harder on her academic portfolio. It is imbalances like these that affect a growing number of young students in the US. What I once thought was a scenario for only the few is now the norm, and it is perpetuated by a bullying epidemic.

This norm is expanding rapidly, with 1 in 3 US students bullied every year. The landscape of bullying also evolved and expanded with the birth of the digital era; cyberbullying already affects 15% of 12-18-year-olds.1

There is a silver lining. Though the methods of bullying may change, its effects on well-being remain unchanged. A lack of empathy leads to divisions instead of celebrations of diversity. Feelings of isolation exacerbate the consequences of bullying and harassment. Personally, I distinctly remember the lack of support or authority figures who intervened. There was no outreached hand to pull me back up when I was feeling down. I can only imagine how that would feel in the digitally connected world today. 

But unlike today, there were not many systems in schools that addressed bullying effectively. Social and emotional learning (SEL) was not a key concept for many programs. Instead, many punishment systems pushed students farther apart. It is because of tools like SEL that No Bully has been so successful in schools.

Even with tools as successful as No Bully, there are still countless students targeted. To build empathy requires communication. It is why movements such as Unity Day are so important. Without awareness and support, it is harder to reach everyone who needs help. It makes me happy to see how far anti-bullying programs have come since I was in school, but more people deserve to hear about them. Everyone deserves to be empowered. 

1 Indicators of School Crime and Safety. (2019, April). Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/crimeindicators/ind_10.asp.