by Maya Porter, for Community News Service
A coalition of Vermont organizations has begun a new project to shed light on harassment, hazing and bullying in schools.
The storytelling project is called Vermont Narratives of Change and, according to its website, the organizers behind it “believe that by sharing collective stories, we can create connections and validation that support a healing process for affected students.”
The project will allow those affected by bullying and harassment in Vermont schools — students and their guardians — to share their stories either through a confidential form, an interview or a small group discussion. The means of sharing those stories — in a publication, for example, or through a documentary — is still to be determined.
“It’s a problem,” said 16-year-old Hudson Ranney of the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network, one of the dozen organizations in the coalition, talking about bullying and harassment in schools. “Some people think it’s a joke, but it’s not a joke — it hurts people.”
Groups involved include the Vermont Human Rights Commission and marquee names in advocacy circles like Outright Vermont, the Vermont American Civil Liberties Union and The Root Social Justice Center, among others, according to an Oct. 3 press release announcing the effort.
Mia Schultz, president of the Rutland NAACP, another of the organizations, said that right now, project organizers are collecting stories. How those stories will be shared, she said, is in the hands of those individuals telling their stories.
Schultz said the project intends to give marginalized students an opportunity to have their voices heard in a way they might not have otherwise.
“We hear the stories, but the population in general do not … Maybe the real effective change is making sure everybody hears these stories so that change can be a collective pursuit with the public,” Schultz said, “so we can change the policies, change the laws, change the hearts and the minds of administrators and schools, to ensure safety for all of our children, no matter what their race is, no matter what their religion is, no matter what their abilities are.”
Schultz said the hope is to create a space for people to be heard outside of traditional pathways — such as the protocols schools have now to report and address bullying.
That, she said, is because those pathways are often insufficient for people in marginalized communities.
“There’s a lot of politicians that like to think that the hazing, harassment and bullying policy does protect against our most marginalized kids,” she said. “But when we see it happen all throughout the state — that there’s no resolution that really keeps them safe from day to day — we know that this is now a pattern.”
Through the project, the group wants to turn a spotlight toward that pattern.
“Just because something has always been that way doesn’t mean it always has to be that way,” said Melissa Houser, executive director of All Brains Belong, an organization involved with the project that works with neurodivergent people. “Just because bullying is common doesn’t mean we as a community are gonna accept that.”
Houser explained bullying and harassment is a huge problem for neurodivergent children in schools and causes unnecessary trauma and suffering.
“First step is helping the community understand the problem, then work towards the development of all spaces being welcoming, validating and inclusive, because all students deserve to feel validated and included at school,” Houser said.