Other stories filed under Focus
What would you do if you witnessed bullying?
February 19, 2018
Bullying is a common word heard around schools across the country. From kindergarten through senior year, students are taught signs of bullying and what to do in bullying situations. They are taught through programs, videos and instructional tasks in many classes. Kids are taught that if you see bullying, you must step in no matter what. Today, there are opportunities for many different bullying situations. In the hallway, or the classroom, the bus, even online: these are all common places that bullying is seen.
According to stopbullying.gov, one in four kids are bullied. These statistics are alarming, and as I read them I began to wonder why so many kids were bullied if from a young age everyone is taught to step in and stop it. Running an experiment to see what kids would step in and when seemed like the best idea.
The set up
Since bullying is defined as a repetitive confrontation and extreme difference in power between two people, it would be difficult with the time constraints to set the scene repetitively. A scene of confrontation seemed like the next best thing. I decided that the best way to test this would be between a freshman and a senior, a huge difference in power. Since people often think of these situations in terms of someone much bigger and stronger picking on someone that seems like they’re at a disadvantage, this pairing was the first thing that came to mind.
The plan was to conduct the experiment in two places around the school: the new addition, where mostly freshman have their lockers and an upstairs hallway where the majority of upperclassmen have their classes. The two different areas provided two different audiences, one that was more similar to the victim and one that was more similar to the tormentor.
“I was a little worried [before it happened] about either messing up or gaining too much attention,” sophmore Nathaniel Willius said. He was recruited to play the victim.
The experiment would begin when Willius would run into Koivu, in the hallway. Koivu would then begin to raise his voice at Willius, calling him names and telling him that he needs to learn to walk on the right side of the hallway. Koivu was to get up in Willius’ face, without physically touching him at all. The hope was that the interaction would draw many students attention and reactions.
“I was a bit nervous because I was thinking about what other people would think. Would they think it was real and that I was mean,” Koivu said.
The first experiment took place on the morning of Feb. 6, in the passing times between third and fourth hours. We first took the experiment to the underclassmen hallway. Once the bell rang we all got into place, Koivu walking down the hall one way, Willius coming from the other, with me in the middle to witness the whole interaction and take note. As soon as Willius “ran into” him, Koivu began to get up in his face. He followed him down the hallway, tormenting him the entire way.
The hall was full of kids, coming both ways around the hallway. At the beginning, no one was obviously noticing or looking at it. As the time went on, however, more people looked. Kids at their lockers were watching and peoples heads began to turn. At either end of the hallway, two editors were posted to help get people’s attention and help them understand that it was an experiment as well as gauge reactions. When they asked people if they saw anything everyone said no, even if it was obvious that they had due to their stares.
“When I first saw, I thought he was joking with him, but then the kid felt really uncomfortable and looked really uncomfortable, so I was going to go and say something to stop him,” sophmore Omar Omar said, who has Spanish with Willius.
Omar and Osei both begun to react. When they say what was happening they planned to step in. They were the only two students in the entire hallway to outwardly react. Of all the students who heard or saw anything, only two tried to help.
“When I first saw what was happening I was kind of shocked…[these situations] rarely happen. I was about to turn around and go stop the guy from bullying him,” sophomore Millie Osei said.
The second time we conducted the experiment it took place in the upstairs hallway, between B and C lunches. Since there was a much smaller audience this time, I was unsure what the reactions would be like. This audience consisted of mainly upperclassmen, some of whom knew Koivu. My predictions for this audience were somewhat different, thinking some people may step in, but after seeing the first round I was apprehensive.
“I was kind of expecting people to look but not maybe do a whole lot, it wasn’t that surprising I think,” Koivu said.
As Koivu and Willius began to run through the scene a second time, I saw many more heads turn. People were watching and obviously concerned, but again no one stepped in. When asked, one student said he knew it was fake, and many others denied seeing anything. A common theme that I could see developing was denial, since the majority of people asked said they didn’t notice a thing, when in reality they had blatantly stared at the confrontation.
One senior, Thomas Johnson, did notice what was happening, however, and he said he was surprised to see Koivu in a situation such as this. As he walked by he had a look of confusion on his face, and he couldn’t look away.
“I noticed Harrison was talking to the kid. At first I didn’t think anything of it, but then I kind of saw his face was mad and I thought something was off,” Johnson said.
Reflecting on the experiment after the fact, I was surprised at the amount of students who denied witnessing any situation. As common as these scenes of confrontation are in our society, people seemed to be oblivious to the signs. Koivu was close to Willius, and was speaking to him in harsh manner with harsh words, yet people were slow to notice or even care.
The results were surprising, and I am somewhat disheartened by the lack of reaction. People should be standing up for one another, not putting their heads down and walking away. Too often are people labeled as bystanders in situations that could be putting young people at risk. Not only do these situations and bullying put people at a potential risk physically, but also mentally. When we witness an act of bullying or confrontation, we need to stand up. Although it may not be found constantly, if you see something, say something. It’s better to stand up for someone now, than wish you did in hindsight.