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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  

Be on the Field, Not in the Stands

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Several years ago I had a client who, when he came to my office each week, spent the first several minutes complaining about all the unjust happenings that had occurred in his life since our previous meeting. His teachers did not know how to teach, and, therefore, his test grades were low. His mother was sloppy and disorganized, and, therefore, he had to eat out all the time, thereby wasting his money. The students at school were lazy and left their lunch wrappers all over the tables in the cafeteria, and, therefore, there were no clean tables where he could sit to study or to eat lunch with friends.

One day after several weeks of this, I told the student a story. The story was about a soccer team. The members of the team were on the field practicing. Each day the coach gave the players directions about which moves to practice when their goal was to get the ball down the field to the goal and what moves to practice to block the other team from being able to move the ball in the other direction. Little by little as the team practiced they seemed to be getting better at moving the ball down the field, as well as better at keeping the other team from moving the ball the other way on the field. Meanwhile, other kids were in the stands watching the practice. They were watching the players on the field, and talking about the coach and his ideas, or commenting on the players. The kids in the stands said things like, "That coach doesn’t know how to coach. He should teach the team to use more passes, or more deception, or more maneuvers if he wants them to get the ball down the field." And they said, "See that kid over there, he can’t run for anything. The kid over there is so awkward. I could do a better job than that."

Where do you see yourself in this picture I asked my client? "I would be in the stands," he said. "Yes, you would!" And in the stands all you can do is critique the guys on the field. You can’t get any coaching. And you can’t get any practice. You can’t learn any new techniques. And you can’t learn how to get stuff done. And you can’t find out if you have what it takes to step up. In the stands is a very safe place.

"How could you be more on the field?" I asked my client. We talked a long time about the role he could take in his own learning, for example. If, in fact, his teacher didn’t do a good job teaching something, what resources did he have? There were the other students in the class. There was going back to the teacher for extra help. There were internet tutors like Khan Academy. There were other adults already in his life—parents, former teachers, older siblings, for example. There was the library with supplemental books, text books, and study guides. There was the possibility of asking for a paid tutor. And there was bearing down and reading and re-reading the text book. In fact, sometimes teaching yourself is even better than being taught. All of these could put my client more on the field than in the stands, where he would feel more like a victim and an onlooker than a player.

The next time my client came to see me, when he started to tell me about something unjust that had happened. I asked him if he felt like he was in the stands, again. And he said, "I kind of wish you hadn’t told me that story."

Next time you feel like something has happened to you, try to think about what you can do to put yourself on the field. Because it is always better to feel like you can take action to overcome a problem than to feel like you are relegated to being a powerless critical observer.



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