Massachusetts, it is time for the anti-bullying law to be implemented and a writer in the Boston Globe hopes its implementation does not suffer the same fate as an anti-hazing law that was enacted after the 1984 death of a college student who died of acute alcohol poisoning after an enforced hazing:
Only three weeks after the deadline for schools to file anti-bullying plans with the state, a cautionary lesson has come out of the state auditor’s office. We have had an anti-hazing law for 25 years, but an audit found that state monitoring of school compliance with the law had been nearly nonexistent.
Parallel to how the anti-bullying law emerged from the suicides of Phoebe Prince and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, the anti-hazing law was inspired by the 1984 death of a college student who died of acute alcohol poisoning after a forced gorging. When Governor Michael Dukakis signed the law establishing criminal penalties, he said, “This is the kind of conduct we’re not going to tolerate in this state.’’
A quarter century later, no one knows just what is tolerated. Despite heightened national awareness of bullying, three quarters of incidents likely still go unreported, according to researchers at the University of New Hampshire. A 2008 University of Maine study determined that 55 percent of college students involved with teams, clubs, bands, and other campus organizations experience hazing. Nearly half of the respondents came to college having experienced hazing in high school. Despite the refreshing suspensions for high school hazing last fall in Needham and Agawam, flushing out bullying and hazing remains exceedingly difficult amidst a youth’s desire to belong, the denial of many parents that their kids haze, and skittish administrators who want to confront neither parents nor bad publicity.
The law in Massachusetts has been receiving national publicity while evoking strong feelings in different directions. Many applaud the Massachusetts law and others like it for making it clear to everyone that bullying will not be tolerated. Others worry that the law may set-up "zero-tolerance" policies that don't cover complex situations but which lead to over-reactions in minor matters. The discussion is an important one, and applies not only to high schools, but carries over to the continued existence of bullying and hazing on college campuses, as noted by my recent blog for The American Mental Health Association.
William Van Ornum