Faculty thoughts on bullying
Each year, the Santa Clara County Sheriffs and school administrators address aspects of the Zero Tolerance Policy, including what it means to bully or be bullied, in a presentation that all students attend. They reiterate that people need to be kind and accepting towards each other to facilitate a positive learning environment, yet both students and staff acknowledge that bullying remains an issue.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 20 percent of high school students reported being bullied at school during the school year and 15 percent reported being the victim of cyberbullying. Furthermore, the American Society for the Positive Care of Children reports that 70.6 percent of students and 70.4 percent of school staff have witnessed bullying at their schools.
While forms of bullying vary, the underlying idea that it involves manipulating someone against their will remains.
“It is relentless and it doesn’t stop even after somebody asks them to stop doing it,” assistant principal Nico Flores said. “And so I think it’s just behavior that comes from insecurities and [the bullies] feel the need to use power or force to overcome whoever it may be that they’re bullying.”
The challenge lies in how manifestations of bullying have adapted to match the expansive developments in technology in recent years. Whereas there once were to be fewer opportunities for students to engage in derogatory behavior, its authority now extends beyond physical interactions.
“I don’t think that a lot of people understand that the traditional bully taking all the toys or cutting in line or things like that … doesn’t happen at a high school,” Flores said. “There needs to be a really strong awareness about the subtle bullying that takes place, whether it’s jabs verbally, looks, body language and cliques, [and] how kids dress.”
Senior Jeremy Tien adds that at MVHS especially, new students struggle to integrate themselves because of the way students may subconsciously exclude them.
“It’s not outright forms of bullying, like any sort of physical harassment, but it comes down to how people view each other,” Tien said. “The social interactions here at [MVHS] are very strong, which is a good thing, but also, people that happen just to come in and don’t quite fit in [are] often cast out because [MVHS] is such a homogeneous group of people.”
As a member of the leadership team, Tien has had opportunities to interact with new students, some of whom come from different countries. He notices that while students may be friendly to begin with, eventually they become more contentious, pointing out what makes the new student “weird or awkward.”
“There’s an issue in people seeing others as different and I think that’s something that’s always been here,” science teacher Elizabeth McCracken said. “What [students] don’t know is that they hear generalizations and stereotypes and they can’t separate it from what is true. [They’re seeing] through a certain type of glass that you have to take off.”
To address this issue, McCracken emphasizes kindness and compassion as core values as important as her regular content. She hopes that by doing so, her students understand that what they learn in the classroom should carry through their lives.
Tien commends his teachers for making a serious effort to reach out to those who seem like they’re struggling, considering that effective student outreach can be difficult. His concern is with being able to find, identify, and reach out to kids who don’t feel comfortable confronting their issues for fear of backlash from their peers.
“The fundamental change needs to happen with the students because the students are who interact with students the most,” Tien said. “Of course, that’s also the hardest thing to change because it’s impossible to make sure that every single person has a positive attitude. It’s also inevitable that there will be some sort of conflict or clash. It comes down to what each individual decides to do for himself.”
Tien and Flores share different opinions on this point — Flores believes that teachers hold primary responsibility for ending demeaning behavior among students.
“I think that we can bring more to the table if we humanize learning a little bit more and slow things down so that students can feel comfortable in their own skin,” Flores said. “Where they don’t necessarily have to feel as if they have to one up somebody else or tear somebody else down to make them feel good about themselves.”
On a smaller scale, school administrators are committed to building positive relationships between students and faculty as a step towards allowing students to feel more comfortable approaching others for help.
“Through that work, our hope is that students will feel more comfortable coming to teachers and teachers will feel more comfortable in addressing student disobedience or bullying when they see it and can handle it right there,” Flores said. “And that hopefully would just simply reaffirm and strengthen the community within each classroom.”