April 18, 2014

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Is There Such A Thing As "Bad Publicity"?

Maybe there is...when it involves your old school.

I've recently written about my college alma mater getting national publicity for being a "party school", even when it has had bigger accomplishments.

But my old high school is also is in the national media...and its publicity isn't very good, either.

The Associated Press this week ran a story about the suicide deaths in recent years of four students at Mentor High School (perhaps influenced by local media coverage)...all of them the apparent victims of bullying.  If you were up early Saturday, you might have seen the subject explored in a segment on the "Today" show.

There's no doubt the AP story was disturbing. In the most prominent of the cases, the victim's mother said students continued to taunt her after her death, even at her funeral.  And, of course, the first question asked about all this is: "why?".

Bullying has been a big issue in recent years.  WTAP has done stories about it in Wood County Schools.  And it's become a bigger story recently, with the suicide death of a Rutgers student after he was photographed having what appeared to be a sexual encounter in his dorm room with another male.  (I'm not sure homosexuality..or bullying..should be the underlying issue there, however, as it has been portrayed in the media...there hasn't been enough said about the issue of invasion of privacy.)

But what apparently attracted the AP to this story is that it took place not in a city the size of New York or Los Angeles, but that it happened in what the article said was "a pleasant beachfront community".

Mentor is, arguably, a suburb of Cleveland (although it's not in the same county Cleveland is in), but it isn't a small town, either. It has more than 50,000 residents, making it roughly the size of (actually a bit larger than) the largest cities in West Virginia. And much of it is several miles from Lake Erie.

I'm quite sensitive to the issue of bullying.  Although, as an adult, I've rarely talked about it, I endured a lot of it myself in elementary, high school, and even in college (and not all of it was in Mentor, where I didn't live until I entered high school).  I think there are a lot of reasons it has reached the level it has; things such as social networking and the internet which didn't exist 20 years ago, let alone when I was in high school.

But one other thing about the article stuck out.  It notes that students at Mentor High blame a "culture of conformity". "If you're not an athlete or cheerleader, you're not cool," it says. "And if you're not cool, you're a prime target for the bullies."  I don't think that's any different from when I was in school, or when my parents were in school.

One of the last quotes in the article comes from a senior student, who seemed to be upset at the attention the school was getting over this issue.

"Not everybody's a good person," says Matt Super. "And in a group of 3,000 people (the school's enrollment), there are going to be bad people."

 

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