Safe at School?

While the recent suicide of a young student at Rutgers brings up several policy issues, one relevant to this group is how K-12 schools and institutions of higher education deal with bullying, specifically bullying based on perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Although this student was in college, numerous court cases (the first of which, from 1996,  has just been made into a documentary) with high school plaintiffs detailing extreme accounts of physical and verbal harassment indicate that this is a large problem in high schools, as well. GLSEN’s surveys make this point, too (although I am always bothered when newspaper articles generalize the rates at which LGBT youth are bullied from them because GLSEN does not use random samples).

I can’t even think of all the ways this constant bullying might impact kids. Some reports (like GLSEN’s) have indicated that rates of homelessness and suicide are higher for LGBT teens. Other studies (Pearson, Muller, & Wilkinson, 2007) indicate that at least gay male youth may suffer academically, possibly partially because of the prevalence of bullying.

So what are the different policy options here? While some states have included sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-bullying policies for K-12 schools, many have not. Connecticut allows K-12 students or teachers to report incidents anonymously and requires the reporting of bullying incidents back to the state department — as a SPEA student, I have the tendency to believe that one of the first steps should be to put some of these data pieces in place. So what about institutions of higher education? Rutgers has proclaimed how proud it is of its diverse atmosphere, but others are saying that the climate for LGBT students isn’t as great as the University would make you believe. And what should Rutgers do to address incidents like this, that happened not in a classroom but in a dorm room?

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One thought on “Safe at School?

  1. Here’s the press release from Arne Duncan about this topic:

    This week, we sadly lost two young men who took their own lives for one unacceptable reason: they were being bullied and harassed because they were openly gay or believed to be gay. These unnecessary tragedies come on the heels of at least three other young people taking their own lives because the trauma of being bullied and harassed for their actual or perceived sexual orientation was too much to bear.

    This is a moment where every one of us – parents, teachers, students, elected officials, and all people of conscience – needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms. Whether it’s students harassing other students because of ethnicity, disability or religion; or an adult, public official harassing the President of the University of Michigan student body because he is gay, it is time we as a country said enough. No more. This must stop.

    One thing he says — we as teachers need to do this — I think is particularly interesting. I taught 4th grade with two other LGBT teachers, but none of us felt like we should or could say anything about our sexual orientations. In fact, I think a lot of LGBT teachers may avoid broaching this subject with their students (even to the extent of “don’t call Johnny gay”) because they are afraid of the consequences of being outed. 2005 Gallup survey results even indicated that the nation would rather see LGBT people in the military than in a primary school classroom.

    This plays into the whole point Dan Savage has made, which is that LGBT adults don’t feel like they can speak to LGBT youth about these issues because we are all so afraid of looking like predators or recruitment teams. I really applaud his project.

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