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Be an Ally against Aggression

Friday, April 15, 2016

The teenaged student sitting across the desk from me says, “My friend was being harassed by some stupid boys in the cafeteria today. I am so upset for her. But also … I couldn’t think of anything to do to help her.”

I work with high school students by helping them to figure out who they are and who they want to be and what colleges might help them get to where they want to be.  Our college considerations can be categorized this way: academic match, professional opportunities available, social environment on campus that will shape events, and, for lack of a better word, temperament fit—is the campus atmosphere supportive, collaborative, competitive, mostly shaped by responders, initiators, that kind of thing.

Things like real time interpersonal aggression, though, do come up. A student will say, “My history teacher was picking on my friend today.” Or, “My dad was mean to my brother last night.” Or, “I am the only freshman on the team and it’s rough.”

Or sometimes we are answering college application essay questions, like Oregon State’s Personal Inventory question which says, “Describe your experience facing or witnessing discrimination. Tell us how you responded and what you learned from those experiences and how they have prepared you to contribute to the OSU community.”

That is when we both confess, yes, we know that being a witness to verbal aggression, and remaining silent is a tacit sign of agreement with the speaker who implies or states some damaging false assertion. Yes, we say, this kind of abuse is destructive to the whole social unit, whether it is a family, a classroom, a school, or something even larger, like a town or a country. But we both confess we often do what Kerry Ann Rockquemore talks about in her Chronicle of Higher Education article (1/13/16), we freeze when it is our turn to act as an ally. But we also agree that we want to and can work toward being a better responder, one that overtly supports the victim. We do not just want to apologize after the incident to the victim and tell him or her that we know they were wronged.

Professor Rockqueman was responding to a professional situation, which is different, but she encourages the by-stander to employ a technique called “OPTD--open the front door.” This mnemonic represents a set of behaviors for a by-stander who speaks up in support of a victim. It represents: observe (describe what you see), think (say what you think about it), feel (express what you feel about the situation), and desire (assert what you would like to see happen). “When you treat my friend that way, she is uncomfortable and I feel embarrassed. I would like you to leave her alone.”

Another solution, given that in such a heated situation it is too hard to think and it might be socially awkward to say so much, is, “I am not sure I understood what you said. What did you mean by it?” This might be enough to cause the offending person to think twice.

Dealing with this difficult circumstance is hard for most adults.

And we all know that recognizing the aggression is just the first step. But working toward allying with the victim is a step toward making a difference—to a friend, a school, a city, a community of others.

Jan Rooker, College Consultant, 4/15/16  #Teen #Bullies  



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