September 30, 2011
GLSEN Ambassador Shares Experiences at Federal Bullying Prevention Summit
The following is a blog submission by GLSEN Student Ambassador Loan T.
I had the honor of attending this year’s second annual Bullying Prevention Summit, hosted by the US Department of Education, as a representative of GLSEN along with GLSEN’s Executive Director Eliza Byard.
I flew in on the first day and immediately assimilated into the swing of things. There were various panels and presenters throughout the day that provided a diverse set of perspectives for addressing bullying. One of my favorite presenters during the first day was probably the presentation made by Susan Swearer of University of Nebraska; she discussed how bullying must be examined in continuum, as a social-ecological issue. She says that when prejudices exist, bullying exists, which provided a strong emphasis for having a movement that finds systemic means of dealing with bullying. “What are the conditions that allow bullying behaviors to occur?” was the question she asked. Being the social justice junkie that I am, I was relieved to see that biased-based bullying is being critically thought about.
Before Susan Swearer’s presentation, the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, gave a motivating speech in which he reminded us all that the federal government and Department of Education (among other federal partners) will be putting forth as much effort to combat bullying as community leaders and organizations are. I have been paying attention to the Secretary of Education since his “Dear Colleague” letter of June 2011 where he outlined students’ protected rights to form non-curricular clubs such as Gay-Straight Alliances to improve school climates and create safer spaces; seeing him speak in person was another confirmation that he is one of many strong leaders, voices and partners in this effort.
Before lunch that day, we had breakout sessions to discuss the current state of our actions all across the nation. I was excited to find myself in a discussion group with all of the other youth that had been invited to the conference. We started off by sharing our experiences with bullying and then immediately delved into analyzing the actions, campaigns and strategies we’ve implemented through the course of the previous year. It was refreshing to hear the dedication and success stories of all of these students.
The second and last day of the summit was probably my favorite day out of the two. The morning starting with keynote speaker Congresswoman Linda T. Sanchez. Congresswoman Sanchez has exhibited strong leadership in anti-bullying and safe schools legislation, notably with her introduction of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, a piece of legislation that would provide a federal standard for anti-bullying policies in schools all across the nation. Hearing the Congresswoman speak so passionately about the necessary dedication to anti-bullying work made me grateful for having such awesome partners and leaders in Congress.
Later on in the day was the session on bullying in special populations where I was immediately pulled in by the speeches given by the executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at the U.S. Department of Education, Kiran Ahuja, and Amardeep Singh, a commissioner of the same initiative and co-founder and Program Director of the Sikh Coalition. Both spoke eloquently on the matters of bringing light to communities that are typically left out in the margins of our anti-bullying movement. I was grateful and impressed by Mr. Singh’s remarks on the intersections of the identities of students and how important it is for us to examine the full scope of our initiatives. He had brought up the common issue of LGBT students being fearful of telling someone they are being bullied on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity/expression because they are fearful of the threat of being outed. The underlying message of critically thinking about the reasons why bullying exists and persists was definitely in full swing.
I had an amazing opportunity to be a part of the student panel that immediately came after the lectures on special populations. We shared our experiences and were able to create some dialogue before splitting back into our discussion groups. I felt that the student panel was a crucial component of the summit: providing an intimate look into the lives of students who have been unfortunately dehumanized in the issues that we have been discussing over the past two days.
The day ended with Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Thomas E. Perez, reinforcing the proactive atmosphere of the summit. He acknowledged some of the tragedies of this past year but placed even more significance on the necessity of community organizations and the federal government to continue to work on the issue of bullying.
The conference, overall, provided me with image of what was going on around the entire nation. More importantly, it provided me with the fuel to keep going, to keep working as an advocate for safer schools for all students, to keep questioning the conditions in our society that allow for bullying to take root, and ultimately to eradicate those conditions, prejudices and biases in hopes of combating bullying.