The 411: 'Despicable behavior' is the norm on campus | January 25, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - January 25, 2008

The 411: 'Despicable behavior' is the norm on campus

by Katharine O'Hara

"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

I fear we forget these words from Maya Angelou all too often. According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, an estimated 30 percent of America's youths are a victim of bullying, a bully themselves, or - as is often the case - both. Some 160,000 students reportedly stay home from school each day for fear of the harassment, humiliation and bullying they might face at school - a statistic that does not account for the number of afraid and intimidated students who do come to school.

It is no secret that being in high school is not easy. Whether it is academic or peer pressure, parental expectations, stereotyping, racism, homophobia, isolation, name-calling, rumors or exclusive cliques, students are forced to deal with a wide range of abuses, many of which they are ill-equipped to handle. I often observe that identifiable (and often stereotypical) characteristics are used to set individuals and groups apart, and are frequently the basis of discrimination and bullying. Despicable behavior has become the norm; boys and girls alike flippantly refer to females as "bitches," "whores" and "sluts," and words like "faggot" are thrown around with no awareness of their harmful effect. I regret to admit that I, too, have become desensitized to this derogatory language and blatant disrespect due to its frequent use.

It is not just students who are responsible, either. Teachers can also be main contributors to a negative learning environment by their failure to hold students accountable for inappropriate comments, by using students as the brunt of jokes, or by being complicit in other behaviors that shame students.

I also find there is a general lack of rapport between students on campus. Students pass each other in the halls day after day, unaware of others' problems, and even the commonalities they may share. It is crucial to remember that everyone has their story; everyone has feelings they have been forced to hide for one reason or another.

It is easy to dismiss these problems as issues that afflict all high schools and all students - issues that are part of human nature and cannot be resolved. My own experience as a member of the SRVHS Climate Committee, which provides a forum for students to collaborate with their peers and administrators to brainstorm ways to alleviate bullying and harassment, has been plagued by frustration at this resignation. I, too, am often discouraged; I know that I want the school climate to change, but I am conflicted as to how to institute that change in over 2,000 people. After my three years on the committee, I have come to realize that perhaps the only solution to these problems is to enhance the empathy of all students. The discomfort that comes with the internalization of others' suffering just may be the push that drives students to action. When we step inside the shoes of another and walk around a bit, we are more inclined to listen, understand, and eventually compromise.

Schools across the country have brought about change with a similar theory in mind, through programs like Challenge Day, a program featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show that was designed to break down the barriers between students. The organization claims its aim "is to create a world where every child feels safe, loved and celebrated." The program employs a series of methods to fulfill its mission. During Challenge Day, students are challenged to make themselves vulnerable, open up to their fellow classmates, and reveal thoughts and feelings they have never shared.

One of the most powerful activities, called "Cross the Line," challenges students to step forward if they have experienced anything, from feeling alone at school, to being hit by someone they love. In training to become a Safe School Ambassador (part of a similar program), I participated in this same activity. For each circumstance, more than one person always crossed, and several times, the entire group walked forward. We were often surprised by the commonality of our experiences, and found that those we least expected carry heavy burdens despite their happy appearance. It is through this program, and others like it, that students not only become more empathetic, but also come to realize they are not alone in their woes.

Along with more than 400 schools across the country, the high schools in the SRVUSD have implemented the Safe School Ambassadors program, an organization that was created after the Columbine High School shootings to train students how to prevent and mitigate situations on campus where students are being physically or emotionally bullied, harassed or intimidated.

The place to start is to acknowledge these problems exist. I could talk to a significant portion of students at my school who would disagree that bullying or harassment is a major problem on local campuses. While it is true that most schools in this area are not afflicted by great physical violence, and though most are even fully functional (at least on the surface), the judgment, labeling and social persecution that goes on, occurs at any school, in any town, in any part of the country.

Students need to decide for themselves whether they like the way things are, and how committed they are to change; we must all become more self-aware and empathetic in order to make that change possible. Peaceful coexistence and collaboration are important to not only making school a more comfortable and safe place, but to living and working successfully in our increasingly global world.

The 411 offers information and insight on the teen scene by Katharine O'Hara, a senior at San Ramon Valley High School who spends her free time going to concerts, enjoying her friends, and playing the piano. E-mail her at


Posted by Hal Bailey, a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2008 at 8:05 am

Dear Dolores,

Ms. O'Hara wrote well and with depth about a problem generated in high school that invades our culture throughout our adult life. Intimidation, defamation and discrediting is a dire problem of "Bullying" in our high school cultures and it continues into our adult lives and cultures.

Somehow we should hope that many more high school students would join Ms. O'Hara and stop this cycle that continues generation-after-generation into our adult culture and from the adult culture back to their children.


Posted by Paul Simon, a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2008 at 10:33 am

Kodachrome Lyrics
Artist(Band):Paul Simon

When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of edu---cation
Hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

They give us those nice bright colors

Posted as reference, "Is High School Obsolete?"


Posted by Hal Bailey, a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2008 at 7:51 am

Dear Dolores,

I received this comment from a former MVHS student:

"..and there is all kinds of bullying in high school including teachers, coaches and parents encouraging students to bully a fellow student. I am one of several students that transferred from our area high schools because of environments that encouraged bullying about sports participation, academic participation, and activities participation."

Our communities can easily accept that it is "six of one and a half a dozen of the other" and assume that victims of bullying somehow share the blame by attracting such actions by the overall school culture. It is a simple reality that such bullying is not a rational part of education or any culture and it doesn't belong in any part of our community for any purpose.

EDITOR, there is more stories here for Jordan's further reporting.


Posted by Sarah, at OSU, a resident of Alamo
on Jan 27, 2008 at 9:54 am

Posted by request of the author

Dear Editor,

I was a student at MVHS and SRVHS prior to transferring to a private high school. As a future secondary teacher, my goal is to be a more effective part of my students' education and high school experience. My own experience with teachers, parents and students that choose to bully students to participate in various activities and conform to certain unwritten codes was made worse by individual students that physically abused me and school administrators that did not intervene.

Bullying should be a continuing feature in The Danville Weekly because is is surely continuing today for many unfortunate students that are targets.


Posted by Hal Bailey, a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2008 at 7:07 am

Posted information resource requested by Alamo region neighbors

Grade levels: K-12
Established: 1988
Enrollment: 405
Principal: Joan Diamond 10540 Albion Road
San Ramon, CA 94582
479-1200 (phone)
479-1297 (fax)

Venture is an independent study school for K-12 students. Students from the San Ramon Valley Unified School District may enroll at Venture School at their request. The San Ramon Valley Unified School District encompasses the communities of Alamo, Diablo, Danville, San Ramon, and a small portion of the City of Walnut Creek. Students from outside the district will be accepted upon administrative approval with a signed interdistrict transfer.

Posted by Oxymo Ron, a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Dear neighbors,

In many joyous notes to me from towns named Alamo and Poplar in North America, the one theme was that somehow "high school" is a sacred institution that should not be violated as a rite of passage to being an adult. Clearly, most people agreed that high school is a form of hazing that somehow is meant to teach students survival techniques for the "real world."

Such an oxymoron was a great source of laughter because the real world does not have contrived rules and competition akin to high school or does it have any social culture that matches the uniqueness of high school. In the final assessment, most responders agreed that "why should our children escape being screwed up by high school just the same way we were?"



One HAL of a Pal

Posted by Debra Carson, a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 3, 2008 at 11:39 am

Dear neighbors,

This story has provided reasons for our neighbors near California High School to consider the alternatives to creating more facilities for education versus creating more educational alternatives. I would like to thank Cal High and SRVUSD for the information and services provided for education alternatives.

For many students, now and in the past, high school has not been an educational opportunity best suited to their specific needs, their family culture, and their social viewpoint. It is excellent to have options to the social pressures of high school.

Thank you,


Posted by Sarah Grace, a resident of Walnut Creek
on Feb 6, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Posted by request of the author

Special Group Study Programs:

Recently I participated in a conference for tutors that contained a presentation of small study groups being formed as a home-school or venture-type program. The study presented dealt with five high-school students that are part of a ballet company and do their high school study in a group. The program focuses on core study requirements and special study related to performing arts as history, music, dance, writing, and more.

It would seem our SRVUSD could support such groups via their venture and home-school programs and focus on various special interests of the group. Most interesting among the presentation noted were groups that were conducted in corporate settings and focused on various sciences.

What level of interest is there for such programs?

Livorna neighborhoods
Walnut Creek CA

Posted from

Posted by Biff Tomkins, a resident of Alamo
on Feb 11, 2008 at 10:41 am

Hey nerds, shut up and give me your lunch money!


Posted by Oxymo Ron, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2008 at 4:29 pm

Ah, Biff,

Nerds carry credit cards and they DO lunch. If fact, NERD's is so '70's and does not describe any current student.

But as your humor illustrates, high school is likely obsolete for a portion of our students that feel put upon by the high school culture.


One HAL of a Pal

Posted by Carly Wells, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2008 at 6:38 pm

It should not be a matter of humor.

Our children are not adults jaded against the assault of others. There are so many ways to attack our young students on-line and face-to-face that we should not laugh at the long-term impact on how they feel about themselves.

Making a high school student smile is a good intention but we should never ask them to suffer what has become of high school.

Green Valley neighborhoods

Posted from

Posted by Moron, a resident of Alamo
on Feb 13, 2008 at 10:16 am

Nerd is a phrase used by many; it's not a "70s" term.

Posted by Ron Hodges, a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2008 at 8:32 am

Posted from All things Alamo & Pop(u)lar

Dear neighbors,

Moron and oxymoron? Nerd is a term from the past used by individuals long past high school days but not past its mentality. I agree, high school is an impact of individuals that many spend a lifetime to overcome. More and more, that impact is negative and full of labels.

Ron, Alamo Heights TX

Posted by Hal Bailey, a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2008 at 7:59 am

Dear neighbors,

The Contra Costa Times, Time Out section, has an article today on cyberbullying and references to further information on the subject.

Hal Bailey

Posted from