Reporter: Courtney Williams
When Todd Loik took his own life on Sept. 8, he was only 15 years old.
The Saskatchewan teen had been bullied his whole life, but was told to ignore it. Don’t worry about it. Close your eyes, go to sleep, and dream of a world free of disgusting intolerance and unanswerable questions like “why was nobody paying attention?”
Loik’s mother Kim is searching for justice in the form of federal anti-bullying legislation and criminal charges against her son’s tormentors. She talks of his past, of Facebook and cell phones being used as tools to hurt her son from behind the safety of a computer screen.
It’s a heart-wrenching and regrettable story, but sadly, it’s one we’ve all heard before. The names and faces have changed, but the avoidable emptiness another senseless loss of life leaves in the world remains the same.
Anti–bullying campaigns all over the world fight to bring this very serious, all–too-common issue into the minds eye of elementary and high school students with the same common message: Bullying is wrong.
Of course it’s wrong.
It’s not uncommon knowledge that it’s unacceptable to treat people badly due solely to their differences from us. And yet, every year, the campaigns continue.
And while the majority of these campaigns sport sub-par rhymes and bandwagon-type fads, (wear pink and maybe Jimmy won’t get beat up in the bathroom again!) their message is a crucial one – the pattern can’t continue.
Bullying – related suicide rates among 10 to 14 year olds have grown more than 50 per cent over the last 30 years, according to the American Association of Suicidology.
The disconcerting statistics are only getting more alarming as time goes on, and more desperate attempts to stop the tragic increase in avertable death crawl up out of the dust disguising themselves as campaigns.
So the experts start young. We feed the message into the heads of our children, continuing through their teenage years. From the first day of kindergarten to our high school graduation, the message follows us around like a guilt-ridden ex-boyfriend who realized his mistakes when it was already too late.
But what happens when those children get to college – the new beginning that is post-secondary education, residence cafeterias, over-priced textbooks and an entirely fresh start?
Does the need to judge those around us suddenly get overpowered by our astonishingly sudden sense of maturity and world knowledge?
It’s said that today’s college and university students have higher depression, anxiety and suicide rates than ever before. China recently made the news after parents became outraged at the Dongguan University of Technology’s ballsy move to ask students to sign anti-suicide waivers upon their arrival at the school. Heaven forbid the school be responsible for something that was clearly not their fault, probably a pre-existing issue, not related to their studies or the intense pressure placed on them by modern day society and the college of their choice… no sir! Did someone say legal action? Don’t worry, we have waivers!
It’s a tough lesson to learn, but it’s a fact that can’t be overlooked: College doesn’t mean everyone around you has magically grown up and learned the error of their ways – it just means that fewer people are talking about it.
Yet, looking around DC/UOIT’s north campus, the strangely familiar anti-bullying slogans are not plastered all over the walls. There are no hastily – stapled posters on campus message boards or campus radio ads reminding people that “Bullying is Cruel, So Don’t Act Like A Fool!”
It would be easy to say that once people hit a certain age, the urge to discriminate, hurt or slander one another becomes muted or disappears altogether. It’s hard enough instilling the message into the minds of our children – think of how much extra work it would be to continue that through all walks of life? It would be easy to assume that by the time we hit adulthood, we know better. It would be easy to say that students of our age know the difference between right and wrong.
It would be easy, and it would be wrong.
Maybe a new campaign isn’t what post-secondary institutions need. Another painful slogan or overly addictive jingle won’t change the fact that bullying doesn’t stay in high school along with cracking voices and awkward pick-up attempts. But something needs to be done. Students need to realize that everyone is going through their own struggles and we’re so much more alike than we could ever imagine. The message needs to continue to ring out, loud and clear, like a super bowl announcer in the final five seconds of the last quarter of the game we’ve all been waiting for –
Humanity vs. Ignorance.
Which team will win?
Regardless of the outcome, we’re all players in this game. Whether we like it or not. How we conduct ourselves now becomes the foundation for the people we will be for the rest of our lives.
So what team are you on?
Speak up. Smile at a stranger in the hallway. Talk to the girl who sits in the back row by herself every lecture. Add a new person to your group of friends in your labs or invite the quiet kid no one knows to your study group next week. It’s just as important now as it was five years ago – and it could be just as life-changing.