Everyone has experienced bullying, on the receiving end, or the giving end, or as an observer, and it’s not just the stuff of children and teenagers on the playground or in school. Bullying occurs at home, in the workplace, anywhere in a community.
Scott Geller, Alumni Distinguished Professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Psychology, knows this and wants to push bullying — the act and the negative consequences — to the forefront of a university-wide discussion. That’s why he and his colleagues within the Department of Psychology are bringing the short-film “Bully Fighters” to campus at 6 p.m. Friday at 281 Davidson Hall for a “red carpet” public viewing and a follow-up panel discussion that will involve faulty, students, police, and community members.
The free event is co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology, the Actively Caring for People (AC4P) Movement, leaders from Virginia Tech campus sororities and fraternities, and the Virginia-based National Center for Prevention of Community Violence, a nonprofit started by former police officer Bobby Kipper.
“Statistics show that 77 percent of students were the victim of one type of bullying or another, and 35 percent of youth say they were threatened online. This problem is in so many communities, including ours,” said Geller, a member of the Virginia Tech College of Science. “By bringing this film to our faculty, our staff, our students, and our neighbors in the community, we hope to spark a movement that says bullying, intimidating others, is not acceptable. That’s what AC4P is dedicated to, creating a compassionate, interdependent, and empathic culture.”
This will be the first time the 25-minute “Bully Fighters” film will be shown in its present form in the United States, following screenings in Canada and elsewhere. An earlier version of the film premiered at the New York University-sponsored 2014 Forum on Law, Culture & Society film contest, where it won the Audience Favorite Award. More screenings will follow in coming weeks, including at the College of Albemarle in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.
Written and directed by Canada-based Jupiter J. Makins as a courtroom-style drama, the film posits the idea of harsher laws in regard to bullying. The film’s descriptor reads, “What if bullies who drive another person to suicide were charged with manslaughter? … Inspired by true events, ‘Bully Fighters’ … raises both sides of this delicate topic when a passionate attorney takes three teens to court for bullying on manslaughter charges after they bullied a girl into committing suicide. Now the jury must decide.”
Makins said the film’s mission is to align “organizations, schools and individuals to help be the change.”
Discussion panelists include Geller; Makins; Kipper; “Bully Fighters” producer and actress Patricia McKenzie; Frank Shushok Jr., senior associate vice president for the Virginia Tech Department of Student Affairs; and Russell Jones and Bradley White, both professors of psychology. Joanne Dean Geller, wife of Scott, will moderate the discussion and question-and-answer session.
“The film is written to suggest a law change that will make bullies and their families consider bullying the way they consider murder itself,” said Makins, adding she was the victim of bullying as a youth. “I believe the word ‘bullying’ softens the charge to child's play. It also softens the way parents teach their kids, or don't bother to teach their kids for that matter, about bullying. If there were harsher consequences, I believe parents would more actively teach their children that it is wrong and be more present when/if it happens to handling it rather than the cold shrug of the shoulder that often happens. I also believe kids would fear it more like they do stealing because the consequences wouldn’t be worth the ‘fun’.”
Also participating in the event will be the Interfraternity Council at Virginia Tech, which will invite several fraternities and sororities to the premier screening of the movie. “We will be using our chapters and the relationships we have within the fraternity and sorority life community to help bring awareness to this cause and the upcoming event,” said Reid Thomas of Richmond, Virginia, and a senior in computer science with the Virginia Tech College of Engineering and president of the Interfraternity Council.
The special event is a kick-off to National Bullying Prevention and Awareness Month in October.
“It was so powerful, it’s a head turner,” said Kipper, the former police officer, of the film. “When people watch this film, they will never look at bullying the same.” Kipper added the film demonstrates that – due in part to social media and the Internet – bullying is far more a community matter than a school matter.
The film’s screening coincides with the pending release of a new book by Geller, inspired by his work with the AC4P Movement, “Actively Caring for People in Schools: Cultivating a culture of compassion,” which presents a positive approach to curb bullying by cultivating a culture of interpersonal compassion and kindness in educational settings. The book follows a similar publication by Geller and Kipper that tackles policing and communities, aiming to repair frayed relationships between police and the public.
“I hope to introduce the attendees to the AC4P Movement and explain how this proactive approach is more effective at curbing bullying than the more common punitive and reactive approach,” said Geller. “The film and the book will activate emotional awareness of the bullying problem, but that is not enough. The AC4P Movement brings action to the issue.”