Story 2: The Aspire Project

Dear Engaged Bystander: Most of you will be familiar with the story of Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, MA. She recently committed suicide after weeks and month of bullying by both boys and girls in her high school. From her death and the suicide of a young boy in Springfield, MA from bullying a new law was created in Massachusetts to encourage education, ensure that each school develop policies about bullying, and mandate reporting of bullying as well.

Usually when an incident, becomes a media story and that story becomes law, that is the end of the community's response. In this case, I am seeing how the community continues to talk about the incident and looks to build broader community support for change.

I live just a few towns away from both South Hadley and Springfield and I see how some of our local institutions are trying to do their part. One such effort is a collaboration between a local radio station and the local paper. They have created The Aspire Project. The project asks the community to help highlight commonsense solutions to the problem of bullying. The name comes from a wish by participants to do more than just recoil from the tragedies. The project is tapping written and spoken contributions from a growing list of community members and local experts. They welcome everyone in the community to take part in the exchange. The website is full of stories of bullying and also stories of people who stood up and said something. Today, I read the story of Danielle Muise who, after months of seeing a boy teased and bullied by others, said it was not OK. She talked about how hard it was to make that decision on her own, to stand up to kids who were bullies and possibly become their next target. She also talked about her own surprise when others spoke up to echo her request to stop the teasing and bullying.

I love that our local paper has a story every few days with another story from someone in our community. I love too that the local radio station (where Rachel Maddow used to work) highlights these stories as well. It is such a wonderful example of communities and institutions taking a role in changing the norms and expectations.

So the second installment of stories, is the story of how our institutions have a role to play in bystander interventions to amplify what each of us can do individually.


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