By N.V. Jones and Stephen Tool
“It is easy to sit up and take notice, what is difficult is getting up and taking action.”
-Honore de Balzac
Bud Hill is taking action.
Spurred on by the suicide of Jadin Bell, a close family friend, Hill has decided to form a new anti-bully organization. The organization, Faces for Change, will offer such services as educating the public, organizing motivational speakers to speak with all grade levels, teachers, community members, and counseling services.
“Our mission is not to cast blame or to judge; rather it is to provide education on the effects of our words and body language to others. We all strive for acceptance when ‘who we are’ is ridiculed or threatened, the internal pain is long lasting and sometimes insurmountable.” This is the beginning of Hill’s mission statement for Faces for Change.
Many organizations in the community of La Grande are coming together in the aftermath of Bell’s death. Eastern Oregon University’s Gay, Straight Alliance is one such organization.
The GSA’s purpose is to “bridge the gap between the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities and the straight communities. We strive for equality and safety for all.” The mission of the GSA is to promote a positive and inclusive atmosphere for all people. The GSA encourages individual growth and understanding by improving visibility and providing support for LGBT people, as well as their allies.”
Eric Martin, co-president of the GSA chapter at EOU, said that they are reaching out to the La Grande high school and the community in order to foster acceptance. In their upcoming Pride Week at EOU, the GSA is hoping to have Erin Davies, creator of the documentary “Fagbug,” as a guest speaker, and invite community members to the week-long event.
Martin also stated that he is open to helping La Grande high school form its own GSA chapter. “If they start a GSA on their campus, we would help. That way, their seniors—if they come over here—will find the transition easier,” Martin said.
The GSA welcomes high school students and community members to attend meetings which are on the first Wednesday and third Thursday of every month. Meeting times are posted on their Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Waldrop, principal of La Grande high school said, “We would welcome a relationship with the GSA. There’s even been talk of starting one [on campus].” She continued, “Any of our clubs have to be student initiated and they have to have a faculty advisor.” Waldrop explained that the advisor would need to volunteer and that she would assist students in their search should the need arise.
Waldrop said that the administration had taken a proactive approach to bullying after learning of Bell’s situation. She said she spoke with Bell’s mother earlier in the school year about her son being openly gay because she was concerned about him.
“I’m sensitive to that; I don’t think that any student who goes to our school should have to feel bullied. If we hear of it, we deal with it,” Waldrop said.
The administration brought in a crisis team to train the high school staff on educating their students about bullying. Waldrop said, “We are very proactive about bullying. We are not one of those schools that say ‘it doesn’t happen here.’”
In addition to the crisis team, the school invited a representative from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network to speak to staff and train them on additional educational materials.
However, the school has always maintained that students should treat each other with a high level of respect. The school’s motto, Tiger PRIDE, is an example of this. PRIDE stands for Personal responsibility, Respect, Integrity, Diversity and Excellence.
Anne March, Spanish teacher at La Grande high school, said, “We plan on finishing the lesson with the message: ‘THINK’ before you use a word that puts someone down for race, color, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, appearance, mental or physical disabilities on Facebook, on the phone, in class, at school, at home and while texting.”
Waldrop explained that they also have certain privacy laws they have to adhere to as well as supporting the wishes of students and families. They can take action against events which occur during school hours or any harassment that can be seen as school related.
Rohan said, “The bullying that happens today is not the bullying that occurred in our day.” She continued, “The seniors washed your makeup off and made you stand and sing I’m a little teapot. It’s far more subtle today and on-going. Its underground and way more technology based. It’s not like passing notes and being accountable if the teacher found it.”
Waldrop said, “Superintendent Glaze has given us funds from one of our title programs to do some more training with staff and develop programs around these issues. There are some kids out there that are hurting right now.” She continued, “Lola told me she doesn’t want any other children to go through this.”
The old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” might be the hard truth here.
School administrators, teachers, parents, community members and outreach programs are coming together to honor Bell’s memory. Their goal is to make sure no other child feels the pain of bullying.
A fitting legacy for a sweet-natured, 15-year-old boy who left this world far too soon.