By Alea Caporrino
It occurs in hallways, classrooms, busses and cyberspace, constantly slithering around students and for some, becoming part of everyday life.
Bullying is an all-too-common characteristic of modern education. Such behavior can have severe effects upon its victims, and a change must be made.
For University junior Ashish Kalani, stopping this cruelty is of utmost importance.
A biology major from Wyomissing, Pa., Kalani is vice president of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition.
This statewide organization is youth-led and youth-run with the mission of “giving a voice to those who feel powerless,” according to Kalani.
Its current goal is to work on bullying issues by improving Pennsylvania’s anti-bullying policies.
Ranked as one of the weakest of any state in the nation, according to a report in 2011 by the United States Department of Education, Pennsylvania’s policies have not done a sufficient job in protecting individuals against bullying.
Recently, four high school students from northeastern Pennsylvania committed suicide within a week of each other due to the effects of bullying. With tragedies like these, it is absolutely vital that immediate action is taken.
PSEC drafted the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act, or PASS Act [HB 2636].
It was introduced on Friday, Sept. 21, to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by Representative Dan Truitt of West Chester, Pa., a University alumnus.
The PASS Act would implement more effective methods in the reporting of bullying incidents in order to prevent and remediate the issue, as well as provide a more solidified definition of bullying.
Kalani states that “there is no set of mechanisms or accountability for proper procedure in the reporting of bullying.” He says current practices often leave the victim at blame for not coming forward.
By making school staff and students more responsible for the reporting of these incidents, PSEC hopes schools will become a safer place.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the act is that it is written by students, for students.
It has power because it is written by those who have recently experienced the effects of bullying in schools.
Members of the educational community and state legislators also helped in the drafting of the PASS Act, and the combination of these views resulted in a thorough and excellent weapon for attacking this nation-wide problem. As a previous victim of bullying, Kalani can relate to those who are currently being affected by it.
“I was bullied for the color of my skin,” Kalani says, adding that bullying is an extremely personal matter. “It really did affect me throughout high school and my high school grades. If someone’s not going to step up and say no to the bullies, it’s just going to continue.”
Although he believes that bullying can never be completely eradicated, he urges that the right policies can help to improve it.
So far, Kalani and PSEC have made enormous efforts to pass the PASS Act .
Their main strategies are informing legislatures about the issue of bullying and about the act itself.
Members of the organization have been going to Harrisburg, Pa., as well as presenting legislators with packets describing incidents of bullying that have happened throughout the state. They also explain what the bill will do.
Personal calls by students in Pennsylvania to legislators have also been used to get co-sponsors for the act in order to get it passed. By contacting legislators who have personally gone to their schools,those who live in the particular school districts, and those who have families in the school districts,PSEC aims to show that people want to see a change.
In order to get this act passed, PSEC asks for help.
The hearing for the act will be on Oct. 10 in Harrisburg, where as many people as possible are needed to show support.
Today, Friday and Monday, there will be tables open on campus to sign up to go to Harrisburg and petition for the cause.
Members of the University community can help by writing advocacy letters in support of the HB 2636 PASS Act to either Representative William Adolph, the University’s representative, or their own district representative in Pennsylvania detailing their own personal experiences with bullying.