Bully director Lee Hirsch and producer and writer Cynthia Lowen were part of a panel discussion on bullying on the University of Northern Iowa campus yesterday.
Bully, a documentary about bullying in schools, has garnered critical acclaim and national attention. The film features an Iowa boy, and bullying has been in Iowa's news recently with the recent suicide of an Iowa teen who was taunted by classmates for being gay.
The panel had two major messages for the crowd that packed Sabin Auditorium.
First, attitudes that make excuses for bullying behavior have to go, they said. Educators, parents and community members cannot dismiss this problem.
"We have to move past 'boys will be boys' and 'kids will be kids' and 'this is just how it is,'" said Nick Pace, associate professor of educational leadership and coordinator of the principalship program at UNI. "If you really understand schools, culture and climate is not just a feel good issue or a touchy feely issue. It’s a learning issue."
Second, the best way to address bullying is through an entire community coming together on the issue.
"One of the things we really wanted to accomplish is to bring together communities to talk about this issue. We couldn’t just speak to parents, we couldn’t just speak to kids," Lowen said. "It really takes a broad coalition of the community coming together.”
Hirsch said everyone should be involved in efforts to stop bullying. There are the obvious players, such as educators, parents, clergy and coaches, but it shouldn't stop there.
"Bring in everyone," he said. "Orthodontists who are with these kids for an hour every week. What do they hear?"
Willie Barney, principal at Waterloo East High School, agreed.
"This isn’t a school issue because a school is a part of the larger community," he said.
Hirsch said the film has reached across party and political lines. He said a touching moment for him was when Mike Hucakbee called him. The former governor of Arizona and one-time Republican presidential candidate told him his son saw the movie and then confessed he'd been bullied extensively as a child.
"Americans don’t agree on much, but I think after seeing this film we can agree on this," he said.
For more information about the film, visit thebullyproject.com.
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