On “Shaker’s Top Ten”

To stop cyberbullying, our student culture must change

UPDATE: As of 7 p.m., it appears the Twitter account has suspended activity. Its author deleted all previous tweets and left only one, stating, “Sorry if this offended anyone.”

Last night, we were cowards.

Last night, students reinforced the idea that it is socially acceptable for an anonymous person to rank high school girls on physical attractiveness and post the list on a public Twitter account, for the entire world to see.

Last night, an account called “Shaker’s Top Ten” tweeted a list that named 10 high school girls — by first and last name — and titled it “Cutest Girls of November.” We don’t know who runs the account. Yet.

For something that shameful, the opposition was embarrassingly quiet.

One girl who made the top 10 retweeted it. Other girls, who didn’t, joked about it, showing disapproval but never animosity. Some students did condemn the account, but the number who did was uncomfortably low.

Although they don’t mean to, students who joke about this account are helping to create an environment that allows this deplorable behavior to flourish. By not reacting with emphatic disgust, we are contributing to a dangerous precedent that will only create more cyberbullying.

And, let’s be clear, this is cyberbullying. It’s also sexual harassment. To deny that is to further condone shallow acts like this.

Maybe we can’t change student behavior. Maybe we can’t make all students fully understand the dangerous relationship between bullying, social networking and self harm. Maybe we can’t teach empathy. We have to try, though. The district, SGORR and students have a responsibility to try.

What we can do is change our reaction to cyberbullying. Last night, the reaction was so timid it effectively condoned the list.

If we meet cyberbullying with disgust, shame and a phone call to the police department or school, these incidents will happen less often. This list is only the latest in a troubling series of anonymous social media accounts organized by Shaker students who lack a moral compass. If students set a zero-tolerance precedent for cyberbullying, these accounts would die out.

It’s entirely up to students and our student culture. If our student culture accepts objectifying underage girls and posting that objectification to Twitter, then it will continue to happen. But for this to stop, and for similar things to stop — emotionally destructive things such as Shaker Confessions and The Dash — cyberbullying must become shameful within our student culture. We, as a student body, must collectively reject cyberbullying and shame it whenever we see it.

How do we change our student culture? By definition, we must change individual students, and there are a few important places to start.

For one, the district must step up. We need a clearer, broader definition of cyberbullying, so all students understand what it is. The district needs to publicize a more accessible and socially acceptable way of reporting cyberbullying. And, above all else, they need to start young — if the district can foster this zero-tolerance climate at Woodbury and the middle school, where cyberbullying is even worse, future high schoolers will suffer less abuse.

SGORR needs to do more. As the high school’s largest club, its members span every grade, race, academic level and clique. It needs to train and expect its leaders to stand up against this behavior. As the group would call it, members need to be “upstanders,” and if Core Members aren’t being upstanders, then who will be? These students are role models, and can model the behavior necessary to change our student culture. Some already do. I urge Core Members to discuss these ideas and expand SGORR’s curriculum accordingly.

Third, students need to be brave enough to challenge the status quo when necessary. This will be the hardest part. There was a sign in one of my middle school classrooms that read, “What’s popular isn’t always right, and what’s right isn’t always popular.” Students will need to do what’s right. They will need to shame bullies and report bullying. They will need to be brave.

That bravery starts with empathy. Understanding cyberbullying’s possible effects — most of all, self harm — will give students strength to feel right in shaming and reporting a cyberbully. And they will be right.

Our student culture determines so much. If we, as a student body, can’t handle 9 p.m. hockey games or Homecoming courts, we won’t have those things. If we reject racism between classmates, it will cease to exist. This can change. We can make cyberbullying as shameful as racism.

But it starts with you.

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