Empowering Young People to Build a Kinder, Braver World
Yesterday, Cynthia Germanotta and I had the opportunity to discuss how to empower young people and end bullying at the Third Annual Bullying Prevention Summit in Washington, D.C. Cynthia and her daughter, Lady Gaga, recently founded the Born This Way Foundation to empower young people with the skills and opportunities they need to build a kinder, braver world.
As moms, both Cynthia and I realize the impact that bullying—and kindness—can have on young people. We both agreed that we must all stay focused on ending bullying because no young person, or their loved ones, should have to endure the pain, agony, and loss to our families, schools, and communities that can come with bullying.
We also agreed that we need to reinforce positive behavior and motivate everyone, particularly young people, to get engaged.
President Obama believes that together, we can end bullying. The President and his Administration are committed to developing a comprehensive policy, and all of us have a vital role to play: students, parents, and school administrators, as well as political, business, community, and faith leaders.
President Obama and the First Lady put a national spotlight on this important issue by hosting the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention last year. The conference brought together students, teachers, advocates, the private sector, foundations, and policymakers to share best practices to make our schools safer. There, the President said, “Bullying isn’t a problem that makes headlines every day. But every day it touches the lives of young people all across this country… If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not.”
In March, Attorney General Eric Holder and I both spoke at the White House LGBT Conference on Safe Schools and Communities in Arlington, Texas, where we highlighted the many steps the Obama Administration has taken to end bullying. That Conference came just days after the Departments of Education and Justice reached a landmark settlement in the Anoka-Hennepin School District following an extensive investigation into bullying and harassment against students who are or are perceived to be LGBT.
The following month, the White House announced President Obama’s endorsement of both the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act. The Student Non-Discrimination Act, sponsored by Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, and Representative Jared Polis of Colorado, would prohibit discrimination in public schools against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. And the Safe Schools Improvement Act, sponsored by Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Representative Linda Sanchez of California, would require school districts to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion.
The same day the President endorsed both bills, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and I hosted a screening of the documentary Bully at the White House. Like many in the audience, I was deeply moved by the movie and the conversation that followed with director Lee Hirsch and several of the young people and parents featured in the film. No young person or family should have to endure what they went through. Those children are all of our responsibility.
Recently, the Department of Education has also issued guidance to schools, colleges, and universities, making it clear that existing civil rights laws apply to acts of bullying that amount to discriminatory harassment. But schools have not just a legal responsibility, but also a moral responsibility, to protect our young people from harassment.
The Department of Education has also worked with states to help them in their own anti-bullying efforts, and recently released a report that documents key components of anti-bullying laws in all 50 states. And the Department of Education has issued guidance to governors and state school officials, in order to help them incorporate the best practices for protecting students. The Department of Education’s Safe and Supportive Schools Technical Assistance Center recently worked with the National Association for Pupil Transportation to provide training to help create a safe and supportive climate on our nation’s school buses.
We also recently re-launched StopBullying.gov, a website that has detailed descriptions of the work we’re doing on bullying, along with resources for young people, parents, educators, and advocates.
The Obama Administration will continue to work to end bullying, and we are eager to work with anyone who is willing to help make our society more kind, inclusive, and equal. But our most powerful partner in this work is our nation’s youth.
That’s why yesterday, I announced a new contest to give young people another way to create a more positive and healthy environment in their schools and communities. Students are encouraged to submit videos answering the question: “How have you been more than a bystander?”
All videos must be created by individuals or groups of individuals between the ages of 13 and 18. A panel of expert judges will help narrow the field, and then the public will choose their favorite video.
Together, let’s build what Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia call “a kinder, braver world” so that our schools and communities are places where everyone can learn and thrive, without the threat of bullying.
Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama