Challenges in Mental Health Care: The Sickness v. Wellness Perspective (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Mental health care is a challenging, but rewarding field.  There are many positive sides of mental health care, and also areas that need improvement.  One of the biggest rewards of mental health care is observing and experiencing progress, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients.  Healing, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients in mental health settings requires patience, understanding, respect, and sensitivity.  Agency and organizational stability is also needed for clients in order that they receive optimal care.  While each agency and/or organization has its own culture, a culture in which workers live in fear of becoming a statistic in extremely high turnover is unhealthy in itself.

As an individual working toward licensure in the mental health profession, I am one whose perspective is from a position of wellness.  First and foremost, one must view a person as a person.  To perceive and treat a person with respect, kindness, nonjudgment, and impartiality are requirements in supporting and empowering the wellness, healing, and recovery of clients.  In the counseling profession, one based on a view of wellness in people, there exists a positive and supportive hope for the overall optimal health of the individual.

This view is different from many other mental health professions in which the general view of the client is one of sickness.  Certainly, approaching an individual with a perspective of what can be improved is helpful, and for insurance purposes involving payment for services rendered, a diagnosis of the client is required, however it is my perspective that viewing the client from a wellness standpoint is much more healthy for all involved rather than judging a person as being sick.

Those who view and describe an individual as a “sick person” have already negatively judged him or her.  They have not viewed the person as a person, but as an “ill person.”  Such a perspective held by such individuals causes them to treat the client differently, as one who needs more and more treatment, more and more medication, more and more confinement.  In these situations, the positive view of wellness is gone, and is replaced by a judgment that the “sick person” is unable to become well.

While clients have challenges to achieving and maintaining wellness, it becomes even more of a challenge when many in the mental health field view clients as sick, and only they as the professionals who hold those views have the power and expertise to make them well – or they have already judged that they will never become well.  A professional who approaches a client from a perspective of wellness (a perspective that is in the minority), therefore, faces even more challenges, not only for themselves but also for their clients when others view them as sick and unable to become well.  A person is still a person, regardless of their diagnosis or disorder.  A person is still a person, and has the capability of becoming well.  A hopeful perspective toward client wellness must exist in the mental health profession – rather than client sickness – in order that clients are supported and empowered to experience that wellness.

A further challenge in agencies and/or organizations in which a “sickness” perspective prevails is that experienced clinicians fall into the trap of believing that their views and judgments about clients are the best – that they are the experts.  Certainly, the experience of a veteran clinician is extremely valuable in treating clients, however experienced clinicians who believe that only their views, judgments, and culture of sickness are the most helpful approaches create a potentially dangerous situations for their clients.  Clinicians of all levels of experience must be open-minded to considering and perceiving different views – including those from a wellness perspective – so that their clients receive optimal care and so that they profession, itself, can grow and develop in a healthy way.

Clinicians who view clients from a perspective of illness and negative judgment place their clients at risk for further illness.  Clinicians who are set in their ways of expertise toward mental health treatment, and who are unable to be open-minded toward viewing different perspectives regarding it have already erected walls around themselves that are harmful for themselves, their clients, the culture of their agency/organization, and the field of mental health.

What clinicians must always place as a primary priority is that people are people.  As such, people should be treated with dignity, understanding, kindness, respect, and sensitivity.  If a perspective of client wellness is lacking or absent, clients will likely experience a more difficult road to recovery and may not achieve wellness.  What is healthier – being an “expert” clinician whose views of client illness cause him or her to be closed to considering a client’s optimal recovery, or being a clinician who treats a person as a person, and who applies a wellness perspective that supports rather than negatively judges the client?  You be the judge.

Be a Halloween Buddy, not a Bully (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Halloween Jack-o-Lanterns (Retrieved from HauntedEve.com, October 31, 2014)

Halloween Jack-o-Lanterns (Retrieved from HauntedEve.com, October 31, 2014)

Things have changed alot for Halloween since I was a kid, and I think that’s for the better.  There are communities that have trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples, costume contests, and other fun events at their fire stations, churches, apartment buildings, or other locations.  I also think that these events have a tendency for increased safety, rather than kids going door-to-door in their area, or even in surrounding neighborhoods.  One never knows the type of person who will be standing on the other side of the door, and/or what state or mood he or she might be in.

It was different when I was a kid.  Kids always walked around the neighborhood, dressed in their Halloween costumes.  We went door-to-door in my neighborhood in Collins, New York, a small, rural town outside of Buffalo.  I always remember that one of my parents took my brother and I around the neighborhood, or a parent of our neighborhood friends did so.  By about age 12, we were really considered too old for neighborhood trick-or-treating, however there were always many teenage boys in the neighborhood who continued to go out into their late teen years.

I remember, growing up, that there were at least three consecutive years in which my family’s house was egged by the older teenage boys.  After this occurred for two years straight, my brother and I vowed that we would try to catch some of them in the act, as we anticipated that it would happen again.  And, we were correct.  What happened that third year that our house was egged was really shocking, incredible, and discouraging to me about these many teenage boys in our neighborhood, whom I henceforth considered to be bullies.

So, on that Halloween night when I was about 12 years old, we had just turned out the outside lights for the night.  Only a few minutes passed before we heard banging sounds.  Mom, my brother, and I were watching TV and looking over our candy from the Halloween haul.  We all sprang into action.  We all ran to the front door, and found that our house was being egged.  My brother, who is younger than me, was the first one out of the house, running into the front yard, yelling and trying to scare the older boys off.

Following my brother out of the house, I lit out like I was on fire, racing after one of the slower boys after they all took off running.  About 15-20 boys had lined the street, surrounding our house, which was situated on a street corner.  So, all of these boys had a larger distance between us, and a better chance of getting away without being caught.  I continued to chase after this one boy in my stocking feet, gaining on him.  His heavy candy bag weighed him down as we ran through the back yards of three neighbors in the pitch darkness.  Having played in those yards, I knew them well, running without benefit of any light, listening to the boy ahead of me without being able to see him well at all.

By the time we reached the third neighbor’s yard, I tackled the boy, and we fell to the ground.  He was shocked that I not only caught up to him, but took him down.  He was filled with so much fear and embarrassment that he left his candy bag behind – my prize.  I took it home as evidence that I caught him, and was very proud of myself.  The next day, my dad went to the home of that particular boy – because I knew who he was – and he talked to his dad about what had happened.

Never again after that was our house egged.  It really shed a different light on all of those bullyish boys in the neighborhood who picked on my brother and I so much because we were good kids who always tried to turn the other cheek.  Unfortunately, adhering to a “Christian” way of behaving in those regards often sends an inaccurate message to others that we weak rather than strong, as we actually were.

So, my message this evening is to be a friend, be a buddy.  Don’t be a bully.  Halloween can be a scary and upsetting time for many people, especially children.  People’s nerves and emotions tend to run highly on Halloween, and it is no time for hurtful pranks and games that can turn ugly very fast.  It is better to be safe than sorry, and be kind to others on this one day of the year that can become unpleasant rather than fun.  Be a buddy, not a bully on Halloween!

The Process and Experience of Cyber Bullying and Cyber Mobbing (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Quote on the Art of Writing (Retrieved from www.WriteAtHome.com on June 26, 2014)

Quote on the Art of Writing (Retrieved from http://www.WriteAtHome.com on June 26, 2014)

Whether it’s bullying or mobbing, in venues that are online, in-person, or behind one’s back, it always seems to start in the same or similar fashions.  A person is either perceived as somehow different from the mainstream, and/or introduces thoughts, ideas, or perspectives that are different from what may be generally accepted.  In some instances, bullying also occurs toward those whose ideas or perspectives are different from those which most people might blindly go along with; in effect, the person who thinks outside of the box is somehow viewed as wrong or bad.  I would estimate that, in at least 95% of instances that I have experienced throughout my life in which bullying or mobbing behavior was directed at me, those situations have proceeded in the same or similar manners, which I will describe further herein.

The first instance of direct bullying that I remember experiencing was when I was in kindergarten.  I was in the coat room taking care of my jacket and book bag.  Two girls, who also happened to be cousins, approached me in the coat room; they were also in my class.  I believe that both were jealous of me in some way, and attempted to degrade me for my characteristics of kindness and intelligence.  I remember being very surprised about their hurtful comments toward me, as I had never said or done anything to them.  It was a shock to be approached and mobbed by two of my female classmates, especially having been taught that girls are supposed to be cooperative and agreeable with each other.  That was an eye-opener to my sheltered existence.

Another instance of bullying, that actually turned into mobbing, occurred when I was in fourth grade.  It began with another girl as the target, and I stood up for her.  This girl was intellectually disabled, taking her core classes in what was called a resource room.  For her enrichment-type classes, such as physical education, art, and music, she joined the regular education classes.  I remember this poor girl being taunted unmercifully by several of the “popular” boys and girls in my class.  One of the boys who was the ring leader of the mobbing toward this girl was the youngest son of the school’s board of education president.  Another girl was the daughter of a teacher who taught at the school.

The mobbing of this girl became contagious, and before long, I recognized that I was participating in teasing and bullying this girl.  When I became aware of what I was doing, I was upset that I had been sucked into the actions of the popular kids – who were actually bullies; it felt very ugly, and I resolved to change my actions.  No teachers ever stood up for this girl when she experienced bullying and mobbing from our peers, and that was another issue that was extremely upsetting to me.

One day while my class was walking in the hall to P.E., several boys and girls began taunting and teasing this girl, calling her stupid and crazy.  She was silent, not responding at all, and taking all of the verbal abuse.  The more it continued, the more angry I got.  Then, I spoke up for the girl, directing my comments specifically at the kids who were bullying her, stating to them that they were the ones who were stupid, and that they should shut up.  The more they repeated their taunts to her, the more I told them to shut up.  At that point, I had taken action in standing up for someone who was vulnerable and unable to protect herself, and I became ostracized by the popular kids whom I had believed were my friends.  When they stopped being my friends, I realized that they had never been my friends at all.  I was happy and proud of myself for standing up for what was right.

Over the years, I have experienced many more instances of bullying, harassment, and mobbing.  Because I am very self-aware and confident in myself, I recognize how these issues begin, how they proceed, and the manner in which a need seems to exist in society for people to hen peck, gang up on, and destroy those who are somehow different, and therefore, who are perceived as bad, inferior, or weak.  I can resolve these issues for myself because I am a person who is a leader.  People who are confident in themselves can take a stand against others whose behavior or communications are wrong, immoral, inappropriate, unethical, or even criminal.  I recognize that it is those folks who really have the issue because they are unable to cope with what they don’t want to hear.

Throughout my life, it has been my experience that such folks may not only be bullies, but who have pathological issues or psychotic features.  These are often the folks who always have a need to be right, who can never consider another’s perspective, who can never compromise or admit they are wrong, who always have to “win” and can never admit “defeat,” and who are masters at convincing others that the targets of the bullying are those who have the problem.  Typically, these types of situations occur in the same ways, and often lead to the pathological bully blaming and punishing the target, including taking actions to intimate, harass, harm, destroy, and/or suggest or state that the target somehow is the one who has a mental deficiency or mental health issue.

In these situations, I have also observed that when a person is in a position of authority, and another individual challenges them to consider a different perspective, they take offense to it, seeing it as not only a threat to their bullyishpower, control, and authority, but also a threat to their identity.   They, then, lash out against the person with whom there is merely a disagreement or, to them, who has some appearance of threatening their cozy existence in which they are typically successful in exerting their bullyishpower, control, and authority over others.

A situation of cyber mobbing that I am currently experiencing is in the international, nonprofit writing organization in which I am a member, and which is male-dominated.  The situation began when another writer deleted a substantial amount of information that I had contributed to an article.  Even before contributing to this particular article, I reviewed its history, and noticed that this particular writer had often made deletes of other writer’s contributions during the past several years.  I actually expected that she would delete some or all of my material, and I was correct.

Quote about Quality of Writing (Retrieved from www.WriteAtHome.com on June 26, 2014)

Quote about Quality of Writing (Retrieved from http://www.WriteAtHome.com on June 26, 2014)

When I challenged this writer regarding what I perceived as an action that was excessive, unnecessary, inconsiderate, and one that did not follow established standards of procedure, she responded by degrading me and my work on the article.  The situation got ugly and deteriorated from there.  Also, having experienced such situations in the past with five male writers in the organization, I expected that she was male, but discovered otherwise, much to my surprise again.  This, then, began communications between us in which the other writer found and stated more and more reasons to discredit me and my work.

Never taking into consideration any of the perspectives and thoughts that I presented to this writer in regard to what she could have done to maintain my information, have formal discussion about it that was open to everyone, and/or make a compromise regarding my proposals to her of how the situation could have been improved or handled better, she continued communications with me by furthering her attempts at discrediting and discriminating against me by introducing her ideas that I did not know how to write (intellectual and professional bias), that I was a kid (age discrimination), and just generally doing her best to add other “issues” to the one that should have been the focus of resolution and compromise.  The writer’s conduct was also hostile and disrespectful toward me, including her use of words in all caps (which is generally regarded as yelling), as well as threatening to report me for simply following protocol by communicating, personally, with her.

Continually, I brought the writer back to the real issues at hand, including being blatantly honest about the lack in sourcing of the article, reflecting a low quality of it, even though it was rated as high in importance.  I had attempted to improve on all of that, although this writer’s deletion of nearly all of my material, as well as her regular deletes of other writers’ contributions, reflected to me her unnecessary and bullyish power, control, and exclusivity regarding the article.

Now, my experience in writing spans decades, and I have also established myself in having taught writing.  I have also had experience in researching, editing, and proofing, including in the professional writing arena.  This writer has many years of experience, is a senior writer, and has numerous outstanding contributions to her credit, though her pathological bullyish nature has caused her to believe she is always correct and never wrong, thus also causing her to be unable to consider any value in alternative perspectives such as mine.

The writer continued to harass, degrade, and discredit me, my writing, and my experience, even going so far as to suggest that I had some mental health issue.  To me, she is the person with the issue.  Even so, three other writers supported her point of view, also being unable to even consider an alternative viewpoint, thus causing a situation of cyber mobbing.  The writer’s threats and attempts at intimidation toward me caused me to report her to the mediation group of the organization due to her inappropriate and unacceptable conduct.

With regard to the mediation group, I also expect that there will not be one person who will side with me.  In fact, I expect that there will probably be another 10 or so people who will add their perspectives to this situation about how “wrong” and “bad” they believe I am.  In these types of experiences, that is what I have observed to typically occur.  People cannot cope with what they don’t want to hear, discredit and degrade the person who is the target of bullying and/or harassment, and support the person who is basically the victimizer.

Thus, the target’s bullying and harassing behavior contributes to harming the target’s reputation and credibility which also has a potential negative effect of also causing financial and economic instability in the life of the target.  This is because bullying and mobbing sometimes becomes so extreme that the target is forced to leave an organization for purposes of self-preservation; the experience of bullying and mobbing is one that can cause many health problems.  It is no wonder that people who actually are vulnerable and whose identity is so closely attached to what others think and/or say about them contemplate or commit suicide as a result of these types of situations.  When many people support the bully, and no one supports the target, things can get out-of-control and potentially harmful or lethal toward the target very quickly.

So, this current situation is one that has caused me to feel offended, misjudged, and victimized, however I am not a person who rates my worth according to the negative and harmful perspectives of others.  Even after having informed the bully of how she has made me feel, she has continued to blame me, be unable to consider any of my views, and suggest that I have a mental health deficiency.  Refusing to tolerate any further bullying, harassment, and intimidation by her, I felt empowered to report her conduct for mediation.

While I doubt that my perspectives will be supported or even that anything constructive might come from my report, I am pleased at having brought the issue of her inappropriate and offensive conduct toward me to an official body within the organization in which these issues are supposed to be handled.  What I expect is that there will be even more degradation, bullying, and mobbing behavior to be experienced within the mediation group.  I hope to be wrong about that, and will follow-up later regarding the outcome.

This has been the perfect experience for me to observe the process of how bullying and mobbing works, particularly in a large, online forum.  I am one who has always believed and worked toward being an individual who holds high standards, and who is of high moral and ethical conduct.  Therefore, I ceased my direct communications with the particular writer, and made a report about her conduct.  Also, I ceased making any attempted contributions or work to the article over which she appears to exclusively “manage.”  And, I won’t be making any contributions to it in the future.  My intentions of being a part of the organization are to contribute and make improvements; anything less than that detracts from what should be the goals of each member.

This experience is also not the first experience of bullying, mobbing, and/or harassment that I have had, nor will it be the last.  It is, however, I believe a reflection in society of the disease of so many people being unable to not only tolerate, but accept people who are different, or who have different perspectives, values, beliefs, and behaviors.  Just because a person’s words, thoughts, or actions are different, does not necessarily mean that the individual is somehow wrong, bad, or mentally ill.  People who are pathological bullies are masterful at causing others to believe all of that about their targets.  Sadly, many others in our society often appear to blindly go along with them rather than consider something different and/or with which they may simply disagree.  If more people agreed to disagree, as well as to make compromises, I think our world would be a better place.

*Author’s note: I have posted this article in four online forums, including WordPress; Twitter; LinkedIn; and CoPromote.

*Follow-up (July 2, 2014): Within the organization, I filed three reports regarding this situation; each one was closed without resolution being achieved.  The first report that I filed was not even read, but promptly closed.  So, I filed another, and was directed to file it in another forum within the organization.  Therefore, I filed my report in the other forum, and was informed that it was not the correct location (in fact, the first forum actually was the correct location).  So, I was given the run-around by everyone involved in the “mediation” process, which achieved nothing.

Finally, I decided to request a “cease and desist” from the writer with whom conflict erupted, and while she did mock me and identify our organization as a “three-ring circus,” for the most part, she has stopped her offensive and harassing communications.  As I expected, I did experience escalated cyber bullying in this situation, which transformed into escalated cyber mobbing.  In all, there were four writers who communicated only negative and harmful statements to me; three writers who shared a mixture of both positive and negative communications; and only two writers who were supportive in any respect.  In fact, I am surprised that there were any writers, at all, who were supportive.

To me, this is a reflection that this situation could have been entirely avoided and, at least, de-escalated, had there been understanding, flexibility, compromise, and a willingness to consider and apply a different point of view.  By the other writer refusing to do so, conflict not only erupted, but escalated.  I informed this writer that her derogatory statements to me were inconsiderate, offensive, and misjudging.  I also shared with other writers that this was the worst experience that I had, to date, in the organization.  In fact, this experience has been the worst instance of cyber bullying and cyber mobbing that I have ever experienced, in any organization.

This really goes to show that there is much to be learned in these types of situations by everyone involved, particularly the adequate and sensitive consideration of others’ concerns.  In too many organizations, courtesy and consideration get thrown to the wind while people steadfastly hold to their own rigid views, contributing not only to diminishing the people involved in the conflict, but also the organization as a whole.  I have lost respect for many of the folks who joined in the conflict, as well as for the organization, all of this having been completely avoidable and unnecessary had consideration and compromise been applied to the situation.

*Follow-up (July 7, 2014): I was actually wondering when the retaliation was going to start, and it began shortly after posting my previous follow-up information of July 2.  I recently wrote and submitted six articles to the organization.  Out of the blue, another writer has been stalking, bullying, harassing, and degrading me.  I believe that the writer is the same person with whom there was the initial conflict, but that the writer is simply using a different account and profile.  The pattern of behavior is the same.

It is so unfortunate that such ugliness exists.  There are always those people out there who believe that their thoughts and actions are self-righteous and brilliant, though they could not be more morally and intellectually incorrect.  It is these types of folks who create hostile and toxic environments, and typically, as with these two particular writers, they are in high positions of authority in the organization.  To me, it is a very bad reflection on the organization, and serves only to worsen such situations and further discourage those who genuinely and honestly desire to contribute.  It is difficult to maintain respect for, and participate in, an organization that allows such unacceptable conduct.

*Follow-up (July 12, 2014): My to my relief, this story has a happy ending, at least for the moment.  The person who was stalking and harassing me in this online forum has now received consequences for their actions.  The writer has been restricted from the organization for an uncertain period of time.  This was an online harassment and stalking experience like I’ve never experienced before; one experienced writer at the organization of many years stated that it was something of the magnitude that he has never observed before, either.  Sadly, the writer evidenced in their communications of not being remorseful, nor of realizing the wrong that was done.

UB Needs to get it Right (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

When I was a student at the University at Buffalo (UB), I had some really great experiences.  In prior posts in this blog, I have described many of my wonderful experiences.  I also had many unpleasant, hurtful, and traumatic experiences.  Describing about some of these situations, to follow, I will also provide some suggestions to officials at UB so that such situations are not repeated with other students.

1) In 1993, I earned a baccalaureate degree in psychology and a bachelor’s degree in political science.  This is a particular detail that is important to me, especially because the University at Buffalo Records and Registration Department (R&R) erred in identifying my accomplishment over a period of 10 – yes 10 – years. Additionally – and while I still very much appreciate it – UB’s President at the time, Dr. William Greiner – also erred on this detail in a recommendation he completed for me, such recommendation that is published in it’s entirety elsewhere in this blog.  On my official UB transcript from 1993-2003, R&R reflected that I earned only one BA, however that was incorrect.

When I went to R&R, personally, several times during the course of that decade, no one would listen to me.  I was brushed off and not taken seriously at all when I repeatedly told people in R&R that their records were incorrect.  Personally, I went to R&R and I wrote letters to several individuals over that period of 10 years until someone finally listened to me, verified that what I stated about my degrees was correct, and corrected my official transcript to reflect both of my degrees earned.

I am sure that anyone in my situation would feel similarly, particularly after experiencing what I have in regard to years of trying to see to it that my educational achievements have been correctly recorded and documented by UB officials.  This is particularly important when people read my resume, and other career-related documents, because I list my educational achievement of the two degrees correctly.

When this error was made during that decade, many believed that I was in error, and therefore, also dishonest, when it was UB that was in error.  I spent $10,000s on my education, including for the acquisition of my second BA at UB.  I also invested an obscene amount of credit hours to earn both of those degrees over a period of less than 3.5 years.  It is important, therefore, that UB has it right!

UB Partial View of Governor's Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 fromhttp://housing.buffalo.edu/roosevelt.php)

UB Partial View of Governor’s Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 fromhttp://housing.buffalo.edu/roosevelt.php)

2) In my first semester at UB, I experienced bullying by my roommate.  She was often disruptive in our dorm room by coming back in the wee hours of the morning with her boyfriend, who would also spend the rest of the night in our dorm room.  She also often moved my things and made many attempts at taking over my space, which we had originally divided evenly.  On frigid winter nights, she would also open the window to it’s full four feet, and expect that it would be acceptable to me that we should freeze.  She would often turn up her stereo volume loudly when I was quietly studying in our dorm room.  And, she had a nasty habit of slamming the door to our dorm room, which as you can imagine, endeared her to everyone on the hall (realize I am being sarcastic here).

I tried to speak with my roommate many times about my concerns, trying to reach agreement and compromise with her, however she always refused.  It always had to be her way.  Therefore, I repeatedly reported these situations to my graduate resident advisor, and repeatedly asked to move, though he did nothing until a situation occurred in which we were both required to move out of the dorm room as a result of our behavior toward each other.  Bullying and the creation of a hostile environment in dorm rooms are issues that UB definitely needs to take more seriously.

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/) (Definitely offensive to UB rape survivors)

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/ 2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/) (Definitely offensive to UB rape survivors)

3) What I will always remember as a traumatic and negatively life-changing experience at UB was when I was sexually assaulted in my dorm room during my last semester there.  Four people were aware of what occurred, though no one reported it.  Two of those people became accomplices to the man who raped me by not reporting it.  It took me about 2.5 years to gain the courage and overcome the humiliation to report this crime.  When I did so at UB, one of the public safety chiefs laughed out loud about what had occurred.  I felt like an ant that had just been smashed.

That was only the beginning of the repeated process of revictimization I experienced as a result of this crime that, to this day, has not been resolved to my satisfaction, and regarding which the offender was never charged or prosecuted.  Additionally, a description of what occurred, as well the offender’s name and other identifying information such as his birthday (both of which I will always remember, by the way), have been deleted from the report that I filed at UB.  I am thankful, however, for the female public safety officer who treated me with kindness and respect.  She was the only person in the entire legal process who supported me in any way.

When I attempted to reach out, prior to finally officially reporting the sexual assault, to several UB administrators and/or their family members, I was ostracized and turned away.  On a number of occasions, I tried to reach out to UB President Bill Greiner by sending him short correspondence.  The answer that I received to my correspondence was from then-Dean of Students Dennis Black, threatening criminal action against me if I continued my communications with Bill!  These were communications that were appropriate, and in which I was merely attempting to reach out for some emotional support and assistance.  I did not get that from anyone at UB except the female public safety officer who originally took my report, and who was kind and professional toward me.

Shortly after reporting the sexual assault and experiencing repeated revictimization through the legal process of doing so, I wrote and posted about my experience at UB and other area campuses in an effort to educate and inform other students about my experience, in the hope that they would be able to protect themselves against something similar happening to them.  One day when I posted my writings at UB, a UB official approached me and told me not to post my information.  This only caused me to post and write about it more.  Such insensitivity and lack of understanding was incredible to me!

UB Partial View of Ellicott Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from Google Images of the University at Buffalo)

UB Partial View of Ellicott Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from Google Images of the University at Buffalo)

Therefore, I have a number of suggestions to UB officials in regard to these situations.  For #1, there should be an audit process at UB that reviews students’ degrees to be sure that the information on record is accurate.  For the information about my degrees to be recorded and repeatedly documented incorrectly, over a period of 10 years, and still to the present day, is absolutely unacceptable.  Also unacceptable was the treatment that I received by individuals in R&R who repeatedly refused to listen to me, nor consider that my information to them was correct and that they were in error.

In association with #2, all too often bullying and a hostile environment are created when people take no action to stop it and/or resolve the situations.  The graduate resident advisor to whom I repeatedly reported these situations did nothing until a serious situation occurred that was unresolvable.  Those who oversee the welfare of others must take seriously the issues of bullying and a hostile environment so that worse situations are not provoked into occurring.

Regarding #3, no one was there for me at UB when I was sexually assaulted.  When I turned to many people, no one helped me.  Being so hurt and humiliated by this violent and traumatizing experience in which I was internally-injured, I blocked it out for a period of a few years before returning to UB to report it, as well as to seek support and assistance for my recovery outside of UB.  I have spent $1,000s on my recovery from this painful trauma, such assistance having been a great benefit and self-help for me.  For any UB official to minimize, ridicule, disbelieve, overlook, deny, and/or cover up this crime, as well as to revictimize me as the survivor is abominable, and there were a number who did so.

UB can establish programs to support sexual trauma survivors, and can also educate about sexual trauma, including how it occurs and how vulnerable individuals can protect themselves from it.  UB can also train it’s officials in regard to responding more sensitively and effectively to those who have experienced sexual traumas on campus.

Myself on Graduation Day at the University at Buffalo, New York, May 16, 1993

Myself on Graduation Day at the University at Buffalo, New York, May 16, 1993

Individuals at UB are what make up UB.  Each individual is a part of the whole, and when any individual is harmed, the whole is also harmed.  The institution should not be more important than the individual, however that was repeatedly proven to me in what I experienced.  So, while I had many wonderful experiences at UB, many of which I have written about in this blog, I have also experienced these hurtful situations.  I expected more from UB, but in regard to these specific situations, I received less.  As a result, I am speaking out, and have already spoken out in several capacities, particularly in regard to being sexually assaulted.

UB will not silence me, nor overlook, minimize, or ridicule my experience, nor succeed in revictimizing me.  Rather than attempt that, why not take action to help and support survivors and victims of sexual trauma that has occurred on campus? Indeed, I have become an activist and advocate for those who are minimized and bullied, as well as for those who have experienced sexual trauma.  I am also a supporter for the recovery of those of all ages, including children, who have suicidal ideation, particularly as a result of sexual trauma.

My experience of being sexually assaulted at UB has been singular in my advocacy for sexual trauma survivors.  So, while being sexually assaulted at UB created much hurt and pain in my life, the good thing is that it has caused me to become an advocate for others who have had similar experiences.  I also try to be aware of speaking and reaching out to those who will actually be helpful to survivors and victims.  Particularly in this area, UB can do better!

Recently, a UB official contacted me via LinkedIn through my personal email account, and requested that I write a recommendation for UB.  Due to the above-described information, I am unable to author a recommendation for UB, however information about many of my positive experiences as a student at UB can be found in prior posts within this blog.

There is good and bad everywhere and in everything, however UB still needs to show me that it can get it right with regard to these issues!

Author’s Note (June 5, 2014): Since posting a UB article about Nursing Week, and how UB could potentially take some initiative within the nursing program to implement programs for student survivors of sexual trauma that has occurred on campus, my comments and posts in the LinkedIn group, University at Buffalo Alumni, have been restricted.  I have attempted to post additional comments and articles, and have requested of the group manager that I be free to post, however she has responded to me that I am, however she has not approved my comments or posts.  Currently, this is the only LinkedIn group (out of 51 groups) in which a manager has not changed my settings to be free to post, nor has approved all of my comments and posts.

It also seems that this is a greater reflection on UB that when controversial issues arise, there are attempts at silencing them.  This is another reason why The Spectrum, the student newspaper at UB, is independent of the university – because of the politics involved in students previously being unable to publish freely, without experiencing retaliation, threats, and/or attempts at silencing them from UB officials.  My view is that my article is an opportunity for people at UB to take initiative regarding these issues and make improvements rather than attempt to silence them and prevent freedom of speech.

 

 

The Gernatt’s of Western New York State in the 1980s and 1990s (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Dan Gernatt, Sr. and Flavia Gernatt, 1990s

Dan Gernatt, Sr. and Flavia Gernatt, 1990s

As you have likely read in a prior post to this blog, a person who was inspiring and to whom I looked up to as a role model when I was a teen and young adult was Flavia “Feggie” (Schmitt) Gernatt (now deceased).  Growing up, I lived in the same neighborhood of Seneca Heights and Taylor Hollow in Collins, New York in Western New York State as Feggie and many members of her family and extended family.  Feggie and her husband, Dan Sr., lived in Collins, right next to the main headquarters of one of their gravel and asphalt plants.

Next door to Dan Sr. and Feggie lived their son, Dan Jr., and his family.  Just a couple of doors down the road from them and across the street lives her eldest daughter, Patricia Rebmann.  The Rebmann Family has lived there for decades, having raised about 10 children.  And, in a neighboring town has lived Feggie’s and Dan’s youngest daughter, Phyllis.  Phyllis and her family have lived in Perrysburg for many years.  Many years ago, Phyllis and her family gave a cute teddy bear as a gift to my son when he was a newborn.

Gernatt Stallion, Sir Taurus, 1989

Gernatt Stallion, Sir Taurus, 1989

I got to know the Gernatt’s by living in the same neighborhood and by attending the same church, St. Joseph Church in Gowanda, New York and the Diocese of Buffalo, of the Roman Catholic faith.  I was also familiar with some of the Gernatt’s racing stallions since they were housed in my neighborhood.  While the Gernatt’s and Rebmann’s had always attended the church’s parochial school at that time, I also got to know them and was familiar with them through bus rides to and from school.  Donald Gernatt, the youngest son of Dan Jr. and Dolores “Dolly” (Stelmach) Gernatt, and my brother, were friends, striking up a friendship on those occasional bus rides that Don took to and from school (most of the time, he was driven to or from school).  Indeed, my brother’s first employer was Dan Gernatt, Jr. at one of his gravel and asphalt companies.

The older children of Dan Jr. and Dolly are Dianna (Gernatt) Saraf and Dan III.  Dan Jr. and Dolly are divorced, and Dan is married to his second wife, Roseann (Morgano) Gernatt.  As a kid, I also knew some of the younger Rebmann kids, including Dave, Barb, and Jeanne, through church as well as Girl Scouts.  Some of the older Rebmann’s continued to live in Seneca Heights after getting married and having their own families.

The Ulmer Family, 2000

The Ulmer Family, 2000

In my mid-teens, I would often attend daily mass at St. Joseph Church, and discovered that many in the Gernatt extended family did, as well.  Through church and mass, I got to know and become familiar with Dan Sr.’s and Feggie’s daughter, Phyllis Ulmer, and her family.  Phyllis and her husband, Rich (now deceased) have two adult sons, and Rich has two adult children from a prior marriage.  Phyllis and Rich have been involved in the church and school in many capacities.  I also got to know and become more familiar with Dan Sr., Feggie, and Dan Jr., as they regularly attended daily mass, as well.

I remember back to the time when I was a student at the University at Buffalo and on Spring Break that my car had broken down, and after asking Dan Sr. and Feggie to transport me to and from daily mass for a few days, they did so.  They included me as their guest in the light breakfast that followed a 6:30 AM mass during Lent at that time, and were very kind to me.  I further got to know Feggie a bit more while catching up with her and walking with her, occasionally, on walks through our neighborhood.  Feggie was a wise, intelligent, insightful, and strong woman.

The Gernatt and Saraf Families, 1980s

The Gernatt and Saraf Families, 1980s

As a high school junior, a friend of mine began dating one of the Rebmann’s.  This young man was a cousin and friend to Don Gernatt, and so, I asked my friend if she would pass along to him that I was interested in seeing him, if he was available.  It was at that time in 1987 that I dated Don for a few months, until my family’s out-of-state vacation interfered with Don’s prom.  I remember him as an exceptional gentleman who treated me with kindness, appreciation, honor, respect, and dignity, in the manner that I believe that all men should treat women.  Since that time, I have found no one with whom I have been romantically involved to have met or exceeded the standard that he set for me in men.

Looking back, I wish someone had told me that most people would not be as kind or respectful of me as Don was.  Then, I would not have held my expectations so high.  While Don and his family members are multimillionaires who are very powerful and influential in New York State business and politics, and in the Roman Catholic Church, my interest in him had never been about money, but in him as a person.  Indeed, the only financial support I ever received from the Gernatt Family was through a $50 sponsorship when I participated in the Miss Teen of New York Pageant in 1987.  Further, I had always observed Don to be kind and good-hearted, even toward those who were jealous of him during our rides on the school bus.  Don is the only member of the Gernatt family and extended family with whom I have ever been romantically involved.

I suppose that when people get to a certain age, they may recall the past and certain past experiences that are always prominent in their memories.  Don and his family live in Springville, New York, while Dianna and her family live in Hamburg, New York.  And, while we have all gone on our separate paths in life now and I no longer have connections to these families, I can still recall many fond memories that I have of dating my first boyfriend, Don.

All other men whom I have dated since my first boyfriend are those who can take lessons from Don in how to treat a woman with respect, honor, dignity, and appreciation.  I am thankful that I was able to experience from him the manner in which men should treat their romantic partners.  I hope that I will have taught my own son to be as respectful of a gentleman toward women as my first boyfriend was to me.

Sources:

Michele Babcock-Nice (March 17, 2014).  Having a Love for Horses: Remembering Sir Taurus and Elitist.  Blogbymichele.WordPress.com.  Retrieved on May 5, 2014 from http://wp.me/p25c1A-qi

Michele Babcock-Nice (February 3, 2012).  In Remembrance of Flavia C. Gernatt.  Blogbymichele.WordPress.com.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://wp.me/p25c1A-3O

Michele Babcock-Nice (2014).  Photograph collection of Michele Babcock-Nice, 1971-2014.  (Photos of the Gernatt’s, Ulmer’s, and Sir Taurus from their families/owners, 1980s-1990s.)  Snellville, Georgia.

References:

Gernatt Asphalt Products, Inc. (2001).  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://www.gernatt.com/

Wikipedia (2014).   Daniel and Flavia Gernatt Family Foundation.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_and_Flavia_Gernatt_Family_Foundation

Wikipedia (2014).  Gernatt Family of Companies.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gernatt_Family_of_Companies

Wikipedia (2014).  Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.  Retrieved on May 6, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_Diocese_of_Buffalo

Wikipedia (2014).  St. Joseph Parish, Gowanda, New York.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Joseph_Parish,_Gowanda,_New_York

“‘Team Greiner’: UB’s Champions” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Me with Carol and Bill Greiner at UB Graduation, Amherst, New York, May 1993

Me with Carol and Bill Greiner at UB Graduation, Amherst, New York, May 1993

When I think of Carol and Bill Greiner, I have fond memories of my interactions with them while I was an undergraduate student at the University at Buffalo (UB).  Studying psychology, political science, and music performance at UB for three and one-half years provided me with many opportunities for interactions with the Greiners.  It enriched my life to have them there, to be excellent role models, to experience their interest in and compassion for students.  As I walk down my nostalgic memory lane, I can accept and be happy with the interactions that I had with the Greiners at many university events, though I will always feel a sense of “unfinished business” due to the things that I was unable to bring myself to say to them.

For that, I wish I had been more mature, more open, more able to trust that I would receive a response from them that I desired.  Of all of the wonderful events and experiences that I had as a student at UB, there was one situation that occurred about which I was unable to speak with them – being the victim of a crime on campus.  I still wish I could have had more time to speak with them, and be able to open up to Carol about it, in particular, but at the time, it was too recent, too painful, too embarrassing and humiliating.  It took me years to fully address and come to terms with what had occurred, and to receive the support that I needed.  And, it was years later when I was able to disclose to Carol, anonymously, about my experience, which was helpful, but still not the same as speaking about it in person.

Something in me needed Carol to know what I experienced; I had hoped the Greiners might be able to implement programs or policies that would have better-protected students such as myself who had experienced what I did.  Never having shared about what it was provided no potential for change, improvement, or support for other UB students who had the same experience.  Perhaps, one day, I will not feel that sense of regret and loss about being unable to speak with the Greiners about the traumatic and life-changing crime that I experienced in my last semester as an undergraduate student at UB.

I first met Bill Greiner when he was the University Provost and I was a freshman, just taking flight as a student at UB.  He was at an event that welcomed students who were new to UB; my parents were there too, and my mom encouraged me to speak with him, and I did.  At first, I was intimidated about speaking with him, though when I did, he made me feel comfortable and welcome; he made me feel understood, appreciated, and respected.  The highlight of the event, in fact, was personally speaking with Bill.  I still remember the confidence he instilled in me in only a few minutes of conversation that I would do well and be successful at UB; I appreciated that.

Within two years, Bill was appointed President of UB.  That semester, I saw and spoke with him again at Homecoming.  At that time, the Homecoming parade was organized at the Main Street Campus in Buffalo, and the floats were driven to the Amherst Campus.  I was a representative of the UB Irish Club for Homecoming that year, in 1991; and was pleased to see and speak with Bill there.  His presence reflected his interest in and concern for students; that was evident and obvious, and again, was something for which I was appreciative.  As time progressed, I determined that these qualities were infused in his character and personality.  He did not just go to some rare event on occasion; he was actively involved in attending and participating in UB events, many of them, jointly, with Carol.

That year and the next, I saw both Bill and Carol at the Homecoming football games; and I saw and/or spoke with Bill on at least three other occasions on the Amherst Campus during my last semester.  On one occasion, I saw him while he was being interviewed in the Plaza by a TV reporter; on a second, I overcame my nervousness and visited Bill at his office, taking many gladioli from my family garden; and on the third, I spoke with him as we happened to be leaving Capen Hall at the same time one evening.  ‘Team Greiner’ was always there, doing more than their part to make UB even more of a success.

The Greiner Family, Susan with Husband, Daniel with Wife, Bill and Carol, Stephen with Wife, Terry with Partner, September 1992

The Greiner Family on Bill’s Inauguration Day as UB President; Susan with Husband, Daniel with Wife, Bill and Carol, Kevin with Wife, Terry with Partner; Sept. 1992

In my last semester at a senior at UB, Bill was inaugurated as President, and I saw alot more of the Greiners.  In fact, I saw them at so many events that I looked forward to seeing and speaking with them, and I actually expected them to be at the events that I attended.  It seemed that everywhere I went, ‘Team Greiner’ was there, too.  The supportive actions of Bill and Carol toward UB, and the students, faculty, and staff were warmly-welcomed and appreciated by so many.

In September 1992, Bill’s Inauguration Week as President of UB provided opportunities not only to speak with Bill and Carol, but also to experience the happiness and joy of those events with them.  There was a Roman Catholic Mass performed at St. Joseph’s Church, right next to the UB Main Street Campus in Buffalo to essentially “kick off” Inauguration Week.  I made every effort to attend because it had been the night before that I had experienced crime victimization at UB; I was already traumatized from it, but did not realize or deal with it.

Additionally, at St. Joseph’s Church following the mass, I was also able to meet and speak with certain other members of the Greiner Family, including his sons and their wives and/or significant partners.  It was wonderful to have the feeling that the qualities of both care and compassion so evident in Carol and Bill had also been transferred to their admirable offspring.  In speaking with their adult children, one immediately knew that they did a fine job at parenting.

Me with Greiners at UB Christmas Concert, Amherst, New York, December 1992

Me with Greiners at UB Christmas Concert, Amherst, New York, December 1992

As Bill’s Inauguration Week progressed, I attended what I recall as being a symphonic concert on campus to celebrate his achievement; it was beautiful.  And, I also attended Bill’s Inauguration as the 13th President of UB, an event for which I remember arriving very early because I wanted my choice selection of seat, as well as to scope out the best locations to take pictures to add tangibility to my fond memories.  Again, I had opportunities to see and speak with members of the Greiner Family.

Following the actual Inauguration was a reception that was held in the new Student Union building, one of many major projects that Bill influenced and completed at UB.  By this time, I really felt a connection with the Greiner’s and their family.  I had seen and interacted with them at several events, and believed that I could trust being more openly, emotionally vulnerable with them.  I had particularly wanted to share about the crime that I had experienced only a few days prior to the Inauguration.  I tried to do so at the reception, separately, with Carol, and with Terry, one of the Greiners’ sons, but I could not bring myself to do it.  I had psyched myself up for it, but talked myself out of doing it, and have always regretted it; it was just too painful and traumatic.

As someone who was active in numerous UB clubs and groups, including ethnic/language-related groups and student government, I received invitations to attend the Student Association’s Christmas parties for two consecutive years, in 1991 and 1992.  On both of those occasions, I saw Bill and Carol, but spoke with them only at the second such event.  By then, three more months had passed, and I had mentally-buried and not dealt with the crime that I had experienced.  It was also at this event that I asked Bill if he would write a recommendation for me.  He asked me to see that he received my resume, said that he would write a recommendation for me, and he did.  I still have and cherish it.

Prior to finishing the last of my classes as an undergraduate student at UB in December 1992, I again saw and spoke with Carol and Bill at a Christmas Concert, held in the Ellicott Complex, my group of dormitory buildings on the Amherst Campus.  Following the Christmas Concert, Carol was very warm toward me, much as always, and spoke with me about alot in a short time.  She made me feel important, valued, and accepted; she showed to me much warmth, understanding, and compassion, like one would receive from a good mother, and much as I do with my own son.

I felt such a connection with Carol during our conversation, and remember wishing that it could last forever.  I needed the warmth and compassion of someone; and I privately thanked God for her, and for her to have treated me as kindly and lovingly as she did.  Interestingly, Bill was somewhat of a sour puss that evening and I could tell that he did not want to talk, though I did not allow that to dampen my happy holiday spirits.  I remember wondering how anyone could seem so grouchy after such a wonderful and festive holiday concert.  It was a different side of him that I had not yet experienced and had not expected, but accepted on that occasion.

The last time that I interacted with the Greiner’s was when I returned to UB for my graduation in May 1993.  I had completed my coursework for my two baccalaureate degrees in December, moved to and was working in Manhattan, and came back to participate in the graduation ceremonies.  I’m glad that I did, and I have many wonderful memories of celebrating my accomplishment with many of my student colleagues as well as my family.  Seeing the Greiners again at this event showed me how much I had grown in a few months of having finished my studies, though it also left me with a longing and nostalgia for maintaining a connection with them.  It was difficult and painful to let go.

The final time that I saw the Greiners was at SUNY Day in Albany in 1999.  SUNY Day is a day that is arranged for student delegates of State University of New York system to go Albany, New York – the state capitol – to meet and speak with state government representatives, receive tours of their offices, and hear lectures.  At the time, I was taking undergraduate courses at Buffalo State College to complete my social studies teacher certification, and I was a student government representative to the event.

It was at SUNY Day that I met former Assembly Member Sam Hoyt from Buffalo; he invited me to intern in his Buffalo office, and I later did, having an outstanding experience.  It was also on this occasion that I only saw Bill and Carol from a distance in a conference room as I was already seating in the back with my group when they entered with several UB student athletes.  It was good to see them again, if only from a distance, and to know that ‘Team Greiner’ was still hard at work for UB.

I lost touch with the Greiners many years ago.  They were people with whom I had hoped to maintain a connection, and to share about the traumatic crime that I had experienced.  There was one occasion more than four years after I was victimized that I got the courage to go to the Greiners’ home.  At the time, I worked just down the street from them at Key Bank.

This time, I had resolved that I would tell them about it, and had hoped and prayed that they would welcome me, but they were not at home.  They had the power and influence to make change at UB to help other students who were survivors of traumatic crimes that occurred on campus, as well as to help see that such crimes were prevented and students were educated about them.  I never got the chance to share my ideas with them.

Around that time, and due to being unable to speak with the Greiners about my concerns, I decided to take my concerns to their son, Terry, at his office in Buffalo.  I am an individual who likes to get things accomplished, and to do so personally, and therefore, my aim was to personally-share information with him about what I experienced and request that there could be some way that improvements related to it could be made for other students at UB who had the same or similar experiences.  It took so much courage and initiative for me to go to Terry’s office, but he turned me away, did not speak with me, and did not accept me into his office.  I was devastated, and felt re-victimized all over again.

I do, however, fondly remember the many events and interactions that I shared with Carol and Bill; and I prefer to remember those.  At the time of my writing of this article, it will have been nearly four years since Bill’s death.  When I read the news about his passing in the UB alumni magazine, it was unexpected and saddening.  To Carol, I mailed a sympathy card, expressing my condolences.  I am sure that such a great man is missed by those who knew him, especially his family, who took priority in his life, much as family should.

So, I would like to think – at this time of the holidays – that Bill is looking down over us and helping us to spread holiday cheer to each other.  I would like to think and remember that he would have been right in the mix of all that, and would not have missed it for anything.  Thanks, ‘Team Greiner,’ for all you have done for me, and for all of your unfathomable support to UB.  You are UB’s unsurpassed champions! 🙂

References:

“Bill Greiner.”  Wikipedia, 2013.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Greiner

DellaContrada, J. (2009).  William R. Greiner Dies.  Buffalo, NY: UB – University at Buffalo: News Releases.

State University of New York at Buffalo Graduation, May 1993.  Buffalo, NY.

Special Note:

This article was also published by both the UB Alumni Association on LinkedIn (December 2013).  Mountain View, CA: LinkedIn; and by the State University of New York at Buffalo business group on LinkedIn (December 2013).  Mountain View, CA: LinkedIn.

“Fantastic Swimming Experience at Local Park Pool” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

My Son Enjoying a Summer Swimming Lesson, Briscoe Park, Snellville, Georgia, July 2013

My Son Enjoying a Summer Swimming Lesson, Briscoe Park, Snellville, Georgia, July 2013

For the past five years, my son has taken Summer swimming lessons at Snellville’s Briscoe Park.  For four of those five years, the area business, Positively Pools, has been contracted to provide life guards, swimming instructors, supervisors, and maintenance for the pool.  It is my absolute pleasure to share the overall wonderful experiences my son has had in taking swimming lessons, as well as in swimming recreationally at the pool.

I would like to take this time, therefore, to thank the managers and staff of Briscoe Park, as well as the employees of Positively Pools for consistently providing my family with such outstanding experiences with swimming at Briscoe Park.  Folks such as Justin, Stephen, Amber, Gabby, Deluir, Gabby, and so many others have repeatedly evidenced their exceptional professionalism, customer service, courtesy, and expertise to us. 

Thank you, everyone, for all of your hard work, commitment, and dedication to consistently doing the best of your ability in being flexible, open-minded, professional, courteous, and dedicated.  It is folks like you who help make swimming an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone – and that’s how it should be.  Keep up the great work!

“Student Exodus from Area Parochial School Could be Avoided” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

During this Summer of 2013, 15 rising fourth grade students left St. John Neumann Regional Catholic School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Only three new students entered the fourth grade in addition to the 15 who left.  During the Summer of 2012, eight rising third grade students left the school.  Only two students entered the school as new pupils in the third grade.  Interestingly, both of those students also left the school this Summer, after only one year at the school.  Additionally, the vast majority of students who have left are Caucasian; most others are of mixed race parentage.  Each year for the past three years, the school has considerably down-sized in terms of student population as well as faculty.  Currently, all grade levels have two classes; it used to be that most or all grade levels had three classes up until three years ago.

As a person who has been Roman Catholic all of my life, and who has provided a Catholic education to my child, the exodus of students and faculty from St. John Neumann School is concerning and disturbing.  One must ask, then, why there are so many who are leaving the school.  I have the answers to that, and it does not necessarily involve finances, budgets, or economics.

I suspect that I will come across as “the bad guy” to many by sharing this information regarding the school, however it is for my concern for students’ welfare, well-being, safety, and positive growth and development that I am doing so.  Additionally, my son is aware that I have a blog, and he also asked me to include his perspectives; my son is 10-years-old.

First, let me state that St. John Neumann School provides an outstanding – outstanding – education to the students.  Overall, my observations of what students learn through the challenging curriculum are well above my expectations.  Each year that my son was a student at St. John Neumann School, however, was a roller coaster.  There were wonderful and memorable experiences that he had with several outstanding teachers, however there were also many situations that he experienced by peers and adults at the school that were mentally and emotionally harmful and injurious to him. 

I often communicated with both school administrators and school system administrators, encouraging that greater sensitivity, compassion, and understanding be provided to the students.  Some of my suggestions were put into place, and some were not, and some were later removed after they were first implemented.  As an involved parent at the school, as well as an active volunteer for five years there, there was much that I personally observed and/or was informed about by students.  By far, the most serious issue facing students is the bullying, harshness, and often insensitive treatment they experience by administrators and certain teachers and staff.  I often encouraged upper administrators in the past five years to hold sensitivity training for employees of the school, though that never occurred.

Another very serious issue at the school is bullying that students’ experience from their own peers.  Some children repeatedly experienced bullying from teachers, adminstrators, and/or other staff, as well as certain peers.  This has created an unnecessary and avoidable stressful and hostile environment for many students.  One problem is because many of the school employees are so harsh and insensitive toward students, they are bullies themselves, and they therefore do not recognize, nor put a stop to student bullying.  Last year, more than 25% of parents responding to a school survey stated that bullying is a problem at the school.  I am one who has, again, encouraged school system administrators to hold anti-bullying and bullying prevention programs for faculty and staff at the school, however that has also never occurred.  Such training may help reduce bullying and increase sensitivity and compassion of adults and students toward other students.

A further big concern is the overwhelming pressure that is placed on students to be perfect in every area and in every way – academics, behavior, sociality, religion, and extra-curriculars.  Beginning with the youngest children, students who do not complete their homework are regularly disciplined.  In the past, teachers required students to stand outside for 5-10 minutes “on the line” – as they would say, on the outdoor paved parking lot play area, typically in the excessive heat.  This was an unspoken rule practiced by primary and early elementary school teachers and paraprofessionals.  Older children who did not complete homework are required to write answers to particular questions on a “behavior reflection” that reduces or eliminates their 15-20 minutes of recess time. 

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

For two of the past five years, another unspoken disciplinary rule practiced by at least three school faculty involved making students walk and/or run “laps” outside during recess on the parking lot, again, typically in the excessive heat.  Sadly, this practice appears to be somewhat of a common, unwritten practice in this area – requiring students to run laps as punishment in excessively high temperatures – as I have discovered that it occurs at many schools.  In regard to one second grade boy, I informed his father that he was required to run laps as punishment by a paraprofessional, outside in the searing heat, and the dad did not believe me.  How sad that some parents are not more concerned about what their child is experiencing at school.

Other teachers at the school regularly separated certain students from their classmates by requiring them to keep their desks far-removed from those of other students, whether for certain assignments or even months at a time.  I often observed where many teachers would use guilt, humiliation, and embarassment toward students to demoralize them into doing what they wanted them to, rather than speak to children with respect, compassion, and understanding. 

Early elementary students are also required to miss 45 minutes of lunch and recess by serving detention in the main office, including for extremely minor offenses.  Such harsh and unnecessary punishments are unethical, demoralizing, and depressing to many students, particulary those outstanding students who get caught in the crossfires of the political drama at the school.  In consulting with employees of other area schools, lengthy detentions are required only in the most severe situations of high school – high school – students, not early elementary students!  I personally requested of school administration to reduce or eliminate this practice, though there was no positive change, and in fact, only a worsening of it, amounting to nothing less than emotional sadism toward students.  When those who are charged with caring for children see nothing wrong with such unnecessary, harsh disciplinary action toward children for the most minor of offenses, definite positive change is needed. 

Also in practice at the school is suspending children as young as second grade – to my knowledge; one very sweet little girl was suspended last Spring for I cannot imagine what.  In other area schools, such a practice of issuing out-of-school suspensions to the youngest students is unheard of and entirely taboo.  Such a practice proves the lack of sensitivity, understanding, and compassion by school administration.

I feel sorry for the students who are at St. John Neumann School due to the harshness, coldness, and lack of sensitivity and compassion that so many experience from alot of adults as well as peers at the school.  I have often encouraged those in charge who could make a positive difference to consider being more sensitive, understanding, kind, and compassionate toward students.   Harsh, demoralizing, excessive, and/or inhumane punishments that are disguised as “disciplinary actions” – even for the most minor of wrongs – are well beyond what school employees should expect of children.

When students get seriously hurt or ill at the school, a parent is lucky to get a phone call or communication about the incident from anyone.  A second-grade student got a serious blow to the head during outdoor play, but no ice was placed on the injury and no phone call was made to parents.  Upon picking up the child from school, it was obvious to the parent that the injury was serious.  When the child spoke of dizziness a number of hours after the injury, the parent took the child to their pediatrician. 

A kindergarten student fell in the hallway and sustained a large gash near her chin.  Parents received no communications from the school about the incident, and only a band-aid was placed on the wound.  Upon removing the band-aid after the child got home, the parent observed the depth of the wound, taking her to the emergency medical clinic where she received four stitches.  There have also been instances in which students were genuinely ill, but when they asked to go to the clinic, they were refused by certain teachers and paraprofessionals.  Keep in mind that absolutely no communications to parents by anyone at the school was made in any of these situations.

Safety is also a concern at the school.  There are no security cameras at the school, so there is no tangible record of situations that occur there – it is one person’s word against another’s.  A parent can inform an administrator about a teacher who belittles, bullies, and yells at a student – such as, simply for asking to use the restroom – but without any recording of it, the administrator does not believe it, does not want to get involved, and further, had already behaved in a bullyish manner toward children, so it is a lost cause.

Additionally, even with improved security measures having been implemented at the school this past Spring, it has not actually gotten better.  All visitors are to sign-in at the front office upon entering the building, however have been many occasion – including since the new policies were implemented – that I personally observed people enter and walk through the building without signing in at all, nor going to the main office.  There are also repeated instances of no one being at the front desk at the main office when people enter the school. 

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

Last Spring, there was an actual “intruder alert” that occurred at the school that was not a drill; I was at the school volunteering when it occurred.  Parents were not informed by any school officials that the intruder alert occurred.  While the Superintendent stated in an archdiocese newspaper article that such drills and procedures regularly occur at all schools, a teacher at the school shared that only one such alert – whether actual or drill – occurred there in the past seven years!  If she means that such alerts and/or drills occur every seven years, she would be correct that they occur regularly, however it has been my experience that many public schools, for example, practice them between 2-4 times each year.  Because these drills and alerts are not “regularly” practiced at the school, many teachers really do not know what to do.  When fire and even tornado drills are practiced more than intruder drills, I for one, am concerned about the safety of my child at the school.

Teachers are also known to leave outside doors propped or even slightly ajar when they are supposed to be closed and locked.  Unfortunately, this is also a practice at many schools, so that late colleagues can enter the school undetected by supervisors.  However, that this is regularly being done on the hallway that houses the youngest children is a serious safety concern.

Again, I will likely be viewed as the bearer of bad news by sharing this information, however I believe that steps need to be taken to make improvements in order to progress rather than regress at St. John Neumann School.  I know I won’t win any awards for my article.  That my son – a 10-year-old – also wanted me to share his views about what he experienced at the school reflects the tone and atmosphere that is present at the school. 

While we have had many wonderful and memorable experiences at the school, as well as having met, interacted with, and befriended many people – including some truly great teachers – it is a serious concern when a school does not live up to it’s mission and standards.  When “teaching the Gospel values” of God and Jesus in the Catholic tradition is merely spoken but not actually practiced by many school representatives, there is definitely something that must change for the better. 

So, at $7,000 per student in tuition only, St. John Neumann lost a total of 18 students from the second and third grades in the past two years.  I think that’s a total of $126,000 if I did my math correctly, right?  That’s alot of money to be losing.  In business, it is always said that it is much easier to retain those people who are already part of an institution rather than recruit new ones.  However, in sharing my perspectives about this to both school administrators and school system administrators, there has been an apathy and lack of concern about it.  For me, personally, as a Catholic and having desired for my child to have a Catholic education, this is a serious concern. 

Thus, the reasons that I have described herein, I believe, are those that have caused the increasing exodus from and diminished size of St. John Neumann School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Isn’t it time for a positive change?  My aim in sharing this information is not to be critical, however it is to be honest and urge for positive change and improvements to occur at the school.  St. John Neumann is surely an excellent school at which students receive an outstanding education.  And again, while we have had many wonderful, exciting, and happy memories at the school, there are also a number of issues that deserve both serious attention and improvement. 

It is definitely disappointing when a school of one’s own faith does not meet minimal expectations regarding the value and treatment of children.  Children should not be perceived, nor treated as bad what with issuing so many unnecessary and harsh punishments; it is the perspectives and training of the adults that need drastic improvement.  Maybe if more people put their heads together, praying and working hard in doing what is in the best interests of children, that will occur.

“Completed Suicide Risk Highest Within First Six Months After Incomplete Suicide” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Child mental health is becoming an area of ever-increasing concern and research, including within the area of child sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that lead to suicide.  Recently, within the past two months, I had opportunities to visit a large metropolitan hospital in Atlanta at which mental health care is provided on an inpatient and outpatient basis for people of all ages.  I primarily made observations in the children’s mental health unit in which children from ages 4-12 were hospitalized as inpatients.

Since making my observations, I have done much research in the area of medicine and counseling related to depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that ultimately ends in the suicide of the victim.  I have also consulted with many professionals in these areas, including pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed professional counselors.  Further, I have communicated with school teachers, school administrators, school mental health professionals, school system administrators, and religious about these issues.  This blog article will share some of what I discovered related to these critically important issues in mental health care.

At the hospital in Atlanta at which I made my observations regarding inpatient child mental healthcare, the most significant part about it that was very noticeable was that most of the children were boys.  On one particular day, there were 16 children housed in the unit, and 12 of them were boys, with the majority of the boys being African-American.  Of the girls present, the majority of them were Caucasian.  It was also my understanding that the majority of the boys were hospitalized due to suicidality (and/or other mental health concerns related to it, such as depression, anxiety, and/or sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect).

To me as an untrained observer, I found this to be very significant because my personal expectation was to observe there to be a greater number of girls than boys present in the unit.  Because there were significantly fewer girls than boys present in the unit over a period of several days, it became important to me to understand the reasons for it.  I got to thinking about several possibilities to explain this reality.

Perhaps girls are more open about their feelings and experiences, and/or a depressed or otherwise upset mood in girls may be more visible to others.  Perhaps boys are keeping their feelings too much to themselves due to the societal and cultural expectations for them to “be a man,” and thus, not to show their feelings.  Possibly, adults were unable to recognize signs of suicidality or depression in boys compared to girls.

Further, it may be possible that adults did not view boys’ depression or suicidality to be as serious as that of girls until a crisis point was reached.  Culturally, it is also significant that most of the children housed in the unit were African-American boys.  Specifically related to cultural or ethnic differences, I do not yet have particular potential explanations for this.  Additionally, perhaps there are other general explanations and reasons that I have not thought of for there being significantly more boys in the unit than girls.

As I stated previously, since the time of my observations of the children’s mental health unit in the metro Atlanta hospital, I have researched several issues relating to child mental health, and I have consulted with many professionals in the field.  In a study completed by Cynthia R. Pfeffer (2001, p. 1057), she stated that during prospective follow-up into adulthood of children at risk for suicide showed that a “history of sexual abuse (RR: 5.71, 95%; CI: 1.9-16.7) imparted the greatest risk” for it.  Reading this was saddening and disheartening for me because it appears that most suicide attempters and commiters have internalized their pain and suffering, are taking it out on themselves, and appear not to be able to successfully cope.  They were hurt, have lost hope and trust, and are now hurting themselves, possibly in efforts to make the painful memories disappear.  For them, suicide seems to be the only answer for removing and escaping the emotional pain.

In a study by Stanley, Brown, Brent, Wells, Poling, Curry, Kennard, Wagner, Cwik, Klomek, Goldstein, Vitiello, Barnett, Daniel, and Hughes (2009, p. 1005), the researchers reported that individuals who attempted incomplete suicide are at the greatest risk for repeat attempts and/or actually committing suicide within the first six months following the incomplete attempt (as this study particularly relates to adolescents, aged 13-19 years old).  This is extremely important to understand because those who are untrained in this area do not understand the seriousness or severity of it, or are, perhaps, in denial that the situation is serious or severe.  Regarding children, I believe this particularly applies to those in education, including teachers, administrators, and other staff because they are not equipped with the knowledge and understanding about the manner in which to best support students who have been suicidal.

And sometimes, those adults in education who are bullies toward children truly have absolutely no understanding or compassion toward students who made an incomplete attempt at suicide because they simply do not seem to care.  In fact, those type of adults may even do more damage to the child through their insensitivity and failure to understand the situation by being even more punitive or retaliatory toward the student because the issue is one with which they, themselves, are unable to successfully cope.  It remains easier for such adult bullies of students in education to bully, blame, and revictimize the student victim.

Also unhelpful are the student peer bullies with whom the suicide attempt survivor must cope.  Student peer bullies of the victim seem to bully the survivor even more because they are aware of the emotional vulnerability of the survivor, and they capitalize on that because it makes them feel good.  Therefore, in a school environment in which bullying goes unchecked, unresolved, and not corrected, suicide attempt survivors are at an even greater risk for a future successful suicide attempt because they experience bullying from adults and peers.

Additionally, O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock (2012, p. 15) reported in their study that “psychotherapy did not reduce the risk for suicide attempts in adolescents in contrast to adults.”  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) further reported that “psychotherapy did not reduce suicide attempts in adolescents at 6 to 18 months” into a suicide prevention treatment program.  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) also stated that “psychotherapy had no beneficial effect on suicide ideation beyond usual care” in adolescents.  These findings are shocking, disturbing, and disheartening, particularly when there may be the extant societal belief that counseling and psychotheraphy benefit individuals with emotional disturbances and/or self-destructive ideations.  If psychotherapy is not beneficial to adolescents who have attempted suicide and/or who have suicidal ideation, what benefit is psychotherapy to children who have had similar experiences and/or beliefs?

A professional friend of mine who is a psychiatrist provided me with an article written by a women who is a sexual abuse survivor, and who was hospitalized on three occasions throughout her life due to depression and suicidality related to her traumatic experiences.  The article, “How ‘Person-Centered’ Care Helped Guide me Toward Recovery from Mental Illness,” by Ashley R. Clayton (2013), was extremely helpful to me in better-understanding what is going through someone’s mind when they are hospitalized for a mental health crisis.  The article was further assistive to me because, as a graduate student in counseling who is working on my second master’s degree, it was important for me to perceive and understand the great value of Person-Centered Therapy in counseling suicide and sexual abuse survivors.

Because so much hope and trust has been lost in survivors of sexual abuse and suicide, it is obviously critically important for others, including mental health professionals, to be as sensitive and supportive as possible of them.  The author shared that she experienced the greatest improvement through the person-centered approach and caring relationship that a particular nurse developed with her.  This is something important for me to remember and put into practice in my own counseling of trauma survivors.

Further regarding children’s mental health in relation to surviving trauma and suicide attempts, as well as those areas in relation to children’s school attendance, I spoke with two pediatricians regarding the issues.  Both pediatricians took the issues seriously, however, they did not desire to take responsibility for children who were suicidal because they stated they were not trained or highly-experienced in those areas.  Both pediatricians also desired for parents to work with the expectations of schools, even though such expectations, stresses, and pressures may be too overwhelming for some children.  Regarding the experience of child sexual abuse, both pediatricians believed that counseling was needed for child survivors, however they both believed that medication to manage the child survivors’ moods were necessary as long as they believed the child was “functioning.”

For me, the perspectives of both pediatricians – both of whom are Caucasian women with many years of experience in pediatrics – were discouraging in many areas.  First, both doctors appeared to be very quick in the desire to refer suicidal patients to other medical professionals.  While that has advantages and disadvantages, it places those at risk in the position of believing that their doctors are unable to properly care for or understand them.  Both also believed that child survivors of sexual abuse need not be medicated if they were “functioning.”  I believe that it is one thing to survive, and quite another thing to thrive.  Merely “functioning” is not fully living or thriving, to me.  And also, both pediatricians appeared to also be too quick to go along with schools’ expectations for students, including maintaining the same academic and/or disciplinary standards for students who are trauma survivors.  As an individual who is an experienced teacher, I know that students have different learning styles; placing everyone in the same category is detrimental to those who have suffered trauma.

Both a psychologist and a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with whom I consulted about difficult, damaging, challenging, and/or overly stressful and overwhelming school experiences of child trauma survivors both believed that people in education are or may be unable and/or unwilling to change in a manner that is more supportive, understanding, and compassionate toward them.  The psychologist believed there is not likely any school that would be able to meet the needs of a child who is a trauma survivor.  And, both the psychologist and the LPC believed that schools are part of the problem in not successfully supporting and understanding trauma survivors and their needs.  Those who are in education – perhaps including school counselors and school psychologists – may be unequipped in schools at being able to fully or successfully support children who are trauma survivors; this can and does have devastating effects on such children.

Of all those in the medical and mental health fields, I believe those who are most fully trained and equipped to successfully both treat and understand trauma survivors – in particular, those who have experienced sexual trauma, depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts – are psychiatrists.  Psychiatrists are in the best position to provide urgent and necessary medical and mental health care to suicide attempters, including hospitalization, evaluations, medical care, and medications.

I assume that the psychiatrists are those who most often see patients who are suicide attempters; and they see them at their lowest points, emotionally.  Therefore, psychiatrists who truly have what is best for their patients in mind seem to help suicide attempters and trauma survivors become stabilized and recover as quickly as possible.  Psychiatrists are in a wonderful position with their patients to be supportive, understanding, and compassionate; and to inform and educate society, in general, about the medical issues and needs experienced by suicide attempters and other trauma survivors.

In communicating with several people who are education professionals regarding survivors of sexual trauma, suicide attempts, and bullying (both by peers and adults in school), I have largely encountered  biases against the survivors, as well as an incredible absence of sensitivity toward them.  Such refusals of understanding, sensitivity, and compassion toward survivors by the majority of education professionals with whom I communicated can possibly be attributed to a lack of or refusal toward being educated and informed about the needs of the survivors.  Such outright insensitivity by the education professionals – the majority of those who were insensitive toward survivors were administrators – could also be attributed to a denial about the seriousness or severity, or fear due to stigmas or the unknown, regarding the issues related to survivors.

In some situations of communicating with administrators, upper administrators, and school psychologists of schools and school systems related to student survivors of sexual trauma, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I also encountered not only insensitivity and a lack of understanding toward the survivors, but also inconsistencies in their behaviors toward them.  In most school and/or school system administrative personnel and school psychologists with whom I communicated, I encountered adult bullying by them toward the child survivors that was sadistic.  In such education professionals, it appeared that their incredible harshness toward the survivors was something that they wanted to occur, regardless of the outcome or effects that may or may not have resulted in actual suicide.

In other situations in communicating with education professionals about such survivors, however, I encountered empathy, compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward them.  Such supportive actions were those exhibited by other particular school system administrative personnel and/or educators and counselors.  Such desparities in the treatment of survivors by various school personnel reflects that education professionals must be on the same page in order to consistently understand and support, as well as be compassionate and sensitive toward survivors.  This appears to be direly and desperately needed in education in order that students who are trauma and suicide attempt survivors receive the greatest possible support and understanding in their educational environments.

Therefore, it was personally extremely shocking and disturbing to me in a life-changing manner that some of the very leaders of schools and school systems not only do not support said survivors, but are actually bullying and sadistic toward them.  In these situations, I believe it would take not less than a miracle to convince such individuals to even consider a different and more positive and understanding perspective toward said survivors.

In regard to particular religious leaders with whom I have communicated about issues related to survivors of child sexual abuse, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I have – thus far – experienced their compassion, kindness, and prayers toward survivors.  I have also learned, however, to carefully choose which religious to approach; not all religious are as understanding and supportive as others.  And, I am further aware that there are those religious who would take such information and use it against the victims and/or survivors in order to revictimize them.  Presently, however, that is not what I have experienced in my recent and present communications with particular religious about these issues related to survivors; and I am thankful for and relieved about that.

I believe that society has come a long way in supporting and understanding the experiences and needs of trauma survivors, including those who have experienced sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, trauma, bullying, and suicide attempts, however there is still much more progress to be made.  Those who best-recover from traumatic experiences are those who have positive, stable support in their lives.  Stressful and overwhelming situations are serious set-backs that only cause them to regress, and to continue not to hope or trust.

It is so critically important for sexual abuse survivors and suicide attempt survivors to have the consistent and unconditional support of those around them, including family members, community members, those who are in education, and others.  Without such support, compassion, and understanding – and, in fact, if the survivor experiences the opposite of those – he or she could make a future suicide attempt that is successful.  Such tragedies are avoidable and preventable if everyone practiced more patient, respect, appreciation, and compassion toward each other, particularly trauma survivors who have attempted suicide.

References

Clayton, A.R. (2013).  “How ‘Person-Centered’ care helped guide me toward recovery from mental illness.”  Health Affairs, 32 (3), pp. 622-626.

O’Connor, E., Gaynes, B.N., Burda, B.U., Soh, C., & Whitlock, E.P. (2012).  “Screening for and treatment of suicide risk relevant to primary care.”  Annals of Internal Medicine, pp. 1-22; pp. W-1 – W-5.

Pfeffer, C.R. (2001).  “Diagnosis of childhood and adolescent suicidal behavior: Unmet needs for suicide prevention.”  Society of Biological Psychiatry, 49, pp. 1055-1061.

Stanley, B., Brown, G., Brent, D.A., Wells, K., Poling, K., Curry, J., Kennard, B.D., Wagner, A., Cwik, M.F., Klomek, A.B., Goldstein, T., Vitiello, B., Barnett, S., Daniel, S., & Hughes, J. (2009).  “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP): Treatment model feasibility, and acceptability.”  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48 (10), pp. 1005-1013.

“Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

It is very upsetting, discouraging, disappointing, and disturbing when one approaches another to seek improvement in and/or resolution to a particular matter, and the other person contributes to being part of the problem by not being understanding or supportive about it, rather than being part of the solution.  I experienced this several times, already, this week in relation to school situations.  The person for whom it is most upsetting and disturbing is the child who directly experiences it.  It is always discouraging to experience situations in which the words and behaviors of school employees are part of the problem.  It is encouraging when their words and actions contribute to solutions.

When a family is spending more money on a private school education for their child, they expect more in every area.  Expected is more support, more understanding, more sensitivity, and at least, fairness, particuarly in situations about which upper administration and administration are informed, regardless of by whom they are informed.  Expected is a positive experience for their child.  Expected is fairness, without bullying of the child by either peers or adults.  As one often finds, unfairness and a lack of sensitivity and understanding may be the norm.  Such a norm should not be tolerated or accepted by anyone, nor experienced by the child.

Therefore, people – particularly those in education who work with children every day – can be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.  I much prefer that they be part of the solution, and that it be a positive solution at that.  Situations in which a particular child is repeatedly blamed for standing up for himself or herself to peer bullies who belittle and degrade him – especially in a Christian environment that is supposed to promote Christian values – are particularly frustrating. 

Worse is the educator and/or administrator who can say nothing positive about the child who has stood up for himself or herself, and instead, always finds fault and harshly punishes the child.  Such educators and administrators should be ashamed of themselves for their repeated unfairness, for repeatedly supporting the bullies.  Never do those child bullies receive any consequences for their actions; their words and actions are repeatedly supported.  The victim of the bullying is repeatedly blamed.  Psychologically, this is the blaming of the victim routine.  Unnecessarily, it typically happens to the same child or children who stand up for themselves to the bullies.

It was the same for me when I was in school.  A bully provoked, and provoked, and provoked, and finally, when I stood up for myself, I was blamed and punished by school officials.  The bully who provoked the situation received no consequences, and behaved as though she was the victim to garner more support.  The same types of situations occurred toward my parents and other family members when they were in school.  School should not be a place in which people experience bullying, however it is and has been throughout generations.

I try to teach my child to be patient with others, that when others bully or provoke him, it is their problem.  However, it is difficult and challenging for any child to tolerate or accept being bullied.  In a Christian environment, with a Christian background and upbringing, I try to teach my child to turn the other cheek.  However, others typically perceive those as weak who are patient, kind, and who turn the other cheek. 

Unfortunately, and from what I have found throughout my own life experiences, the most productive way to cause a bully to stop bullying you is to give the bully back some of their own medicine.  For people who are kind, nice, caring, and compassionate, it completely goes against one’s personality to do so.  However, in doing so, the bully typically leaves you alone after that.  They discover that their perception of you was incorrect.  They discover that you have surprised them by standing up to their bullying, to their provocations, to their harsh words and actions. 

I want the best for my child.  I want my child to enjoy going to school.  My child receives and excellent education, however I repeatedly encourage the practice of increased sensitivity, patience, positive reinforcement, support, and understanding.  I do this every year.  Some are more supportive and understanding than others; some will never change. 

There are few who hold the high standards that I do of being caring, compassionate, patient, supportive, sensitive toward, and understanding of children.  To those few, I deeply appreciate you; you are part of the solution.  However, it is those who refuse to see and practice a different and better way who are part of the problem, who contribute to the regression and/or detriment of the child. 

Those who are part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, should not be in education.  They are not positive role models for children.  In this day and age, we desperately need more and more positive role models for children.  So, when are things going to change for the better rather than for the worse?  Positive change and a reassessment toward needed support for children who are repeated targets of bullies is imperative – it is imperative!  Fairness and support are imperative, rather than unfairness and a lack of support!  It is exactly this type of unfairness and lack of support that leads to bullicide – the suicide of students who are bullied, by peers or by adults.  By then, it is too late, and another life has been tragically lost.

Therefore, I encourage each of you to be positive role models for children, and to always be part of the solution – whether in education or any other area – rather than part of the problem!  Be a positive role model for children.  Be open to thinking of saying or doing things in a different and better way.  Be sensitive toward, and considerate, understanding, and supportive of children, for the sake of their mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and physical well-being!