There was a time when bullying, as traumatic as it was, only happened during school hours.
Now, thanks to social media, it follows students everywhere they go.
It’s just one of many modern-day teen issues that a group at Laney High School is trying to combat with a simple, yet practical approach–education, awareness and a general promotion of tolerance.
Laney is one of more than 2,000 schools nationwide–but the only high school in New Hanover County–with a S.A.V.E. (Students Against Violence Everywhere) chapter. Founded in 1989 at a Charlotte high school following the death of a student who was trying to break up a fight at an off-campus party, S.A.V.E has now expanded to 48 states.
The organization recently held its annual national summit in Raleigh, an event which most of the members of the Laney chapter attended.
The summit was yet another effort among the small but dedicated club at Laney to make its school–and the community at large–a safer place through a variety of initiatives, from peer counseling to more high-tech means, such as public service announcement videos about acceptance.
And members say those efforts are needed. They don’t have to look far beyond their school’s own hallways and classrooms to see national data in action.
Most have seen physical and verbal fights break out, have heard students make disparaging remarks about a peer, know someone who is involved with drugs or the wrong crowd.
“Coming to high school was definitely a change for me because I was always in private schools,” S.A.V.E. president, senior Danielle Voigt said. “I thought high school was like it is in the movies. But I really quickly saw what really goes on and what people say to each other. It definitely opened my eyes to a lot of problems students face. And it made me realize everyone is going through something.”
But there are problems that run deeper than the scuffles, pranks and name-calling. Some, like senior and S.A.V.E. secretary Rachel Cox, have dealt with friends involved in domestic abuse and dating violence situations.
“I actually know a couple of couples who have gone through some difficult times like that, and I guess fortunately they are no longer together. Being in this club and seeing the statistics, it made me think, wow, this really does happen,” Cox noted.
Of all the dangers teens face, S.A.V.E. members agreed, the most subtle, yet damaging and rampant, is social media.
“With the new rise of technology, we’re not talking about old-school bullying anymore, where it just used to happen at school. Now, with social media, even when you’re home you’re still receiving it,” Voigt said.
“Social media gives bullies anonymity,” Cox added. “You say things on social media you’d never say to someone’s face.”
S.A.V.E. member Keila Mateos said she has seen classmates secretly photograph students in the hallway, then post it on Facebook or Instragram with comments mocking the students’ appearance or behavior. Students also often record fights to post online, as well, she said.
And that, Mateos believes, makes a more lasting negative impact than the act of bullying itself.
“Social media has made violence almost into a joke. It’s watered it down and people start to think it’s funny,” she said. “It’s not funny.”
That is the message S.A.V.E. tries to relay to fellow students.
In addition to working one-on-one with students in mediation sessions and making PSAs for the entire school, S.A.V.E. reaches out to classmates, faculty and staff at Laney to help them understand ways they can prevent on-campus violence and promote understanding of differences. They even work to show students the dangers of texting while driving and other roadway distractions.
They have also mentored younger students, partnering with Murrayville Elementary School during its anti-bullying week during the 2012-13 academic year. Laney’s S.A.V.E. was instrumental in helping Holly Shelter Middle create its own anti-violence chapter several years ago.
And they’ve reached out even further, most recently to volunteer with Heroes in Heels, a fundraiser for Coastal Horizons’ Rape Crisis Center.
It’s a lot to tackle but S.A.V.E. members are committed to the cause–most of the seniors say they’ll continue to act as anti-violence advocates in college. That’s because, they say, they are making a difference, one they hope will go beyond their high school hallways.
“We want kids to know they can be the change,” Cox said. “The wider variety of people we reach, the better.”
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.