Becoming the Bully
This Friday afternoon, with ribbon and markers in-hand, Central Fall High School students will tell their bullies how they really feel.
“The students will write down what they would say to their bullies on pieces of ribbon,” says event organizer Theresa Agonia, a senior at Roger Williams University in Bristol. “Then, at 3 p.m., we’ll all hang them in the front of the school. It’s very powerful, because sometimes you don’t have the courage to talk to your bully.”
Throughout the month of February — which has been designated Bullying Awareness Month by Central Falls Mayor James Diossa — Agonia and four other public relations students at Roger Williams University will host anti-bullying events for local youth and the general public. The events are part of their larger anti-bullying campaign, a project they've entered into the nationwide Bateman public relations competition for college students.
Agonia, team leader Sofia Giovannello, Alexa Roberto, Alexander Guedouar and Sam Cloutier hope their campaign will shift the focus away from the victim and onto the bully. “We were really trying to figure out how to stop bullying in a different way,” Agonia says. “Our approach is to talk directly to a bully and ask them, ‘How are you going to be remembered?’ ”
In addition to the ribbon-hanging ceremony, the group is sponsoring a 2K Walk Away at Higginson Park in Central Falls, which Agonia says gives strength to the idea that, sometimes, all you can do is walk away. “The mayor will also be walking with us,” she says. “We’ll all walk away from bullies together.”
The 2K Walk Away is scheduled for February 16 at noon, with T-shirts, energy drinks, buttons and necklaces awarded to participating walkers. At 1 p.m., police escorts will lead the group through the city of Central Falls to the high school gym. There, Central Falls students will speak and perform raps about bullying.
Though the Roger Williams team hopes to place in the Bateman competition, Agonia says the campaign means much more than a line on her resume. “All of us have been bullied in some form, and we've learned that you often get bullied for things you can’t change,” she says. “Four years ago, a girl made fun of me because my dad passed away. She said that she had a dad and I didn’t, which was awful. But we want to show people they can overcome situations like this.”
The team’s most surprising — and potentially most effective — approach to the project is a Twitter campaign. “We started researching other anti-bullying Twitter handles, and they were using a lot of facts and statistics,” Agonia says. “That message was already out there, so we decided to take on the profile of bully to track his transformation.”
The team worked with several high school focus groups to figure their way into the mind of a bully. “You don’t become a bully without a reason,” Agonia says.
This week, Sam Cloutier, the group’s Twitter coordinator, began tweeting about the home life of their fictional bully. Recent tweets read: “Sick of heading (sic) about how much fun everybody had watching the game with their dads. Wish mine would do that” and “passing out in class. cant get any sleep when my parents are screaming all night.”
Week two documents the bully in action, with tweets of real-life bullying borrowed from members of their focus groups. During week three, the bully will face his actions as fictional victims speak up about their pain and thoughts of suicide — tweets that are not uncommon amongst teen victims. Finally, during the fourth week of February, the bully will consider how he will be remembered by his peers, a thought that will lead to his ultimate transformation.
See below for a PSA from Remember Me RI, featuring real students with some sound advice. For more information on the project, visit remembermeri.wordpress.com or follow their progress on Twitter and Facebook at RememberMeRI. Both the ribbon ceremony and 2K Walk Away are free and open to the public.