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Guest Column, Rodger Dinwiddie, STARS (Students Taking A Right Stand) Executive Director (originally published in The Tennessean 09/09/10)


Bullying has become an all too familiar word in our daily experience. Carl Walker Hoover, Phoebe Prince, Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh are the names of young people who have taken their lives in response to horrible bullying acts.

While there are various definitions of bullying, all have some semblance of at least three characteristics; a power differential, an intent to do/cause harm, repetition, with the intent of having a negative impact on the individual being bullied. However, public discourse regarding the issue often misses a significant point. Bullying is a form of peer to peer aggression which is motivated by an absence of empathy, not lower self esteem. There are a number of reasons that we need to define exactly what bullying is and one is for public awareness. However, many acts often referred to as bullying are much more serious. Borrowing language from the substance abuse field can help to understand the escalating nature of aggression. Just as alcohol and marijuana are often referred to as “gateway” drugs leading to harder drug use, bullying can be looked at as “gateway” behavior that leads to more severe levels of aggression, including harassment, and criminal activity. Research from Dr. Dan Olweus, the leading researcher in the world on bullying, points out that bullying is often an indicator of later involvement in criminal behavior. 

Making repeated and or graphic threats, practicing extortion, threatening to keep someone silent if you tell anyone, destroying property, physical cruelty, repeatedly acting in a violent and threatening manner, harassment on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation, enforced exclusion against someone by threats and arranging for public humiliation are not just acts of “bullying” per se, they are acts which can be prosecuted.  And, this is especially relevant for schools in light of recently released data from the largest evaluation of bullying conducted in the United States that most bullying does in fact occur at school.  This same study reveals that nearly 30% of students are involved in bullying at least 2-3 times monthly, and for 39% of girls and 46% of bullied boys, the bullying has lasted for one year or longer.

Bullying is a word that most of us can relate to at some level. Perhaps we would be wise to begin to look at the larger issue of aggression, and look at the tragic mistreatment of others through a different lens.

Governor Phil Bredesen has proclaimed November 14-20 “Bullying Awareness Week” joining STARS in making an important difference in the lives of our teens.  If you or anyone with whom you have contact needs help with bullying, be their advocate, contact STARS and you could make a difference in preventing a drastic and unnecessary outcome.  On Wednesday, November 10 at 6:45 p.m., there will be a Bullying Prevention Workshop for Parents and Teens at Bethlehem United Methodist Church open to the public. On November 11Vince Gill & Friends are holding a STARS Benefit Concert. Visit for more information. 


STARS is deeply committed to creating a culture and work space that centers on the power of relationships, that values diversity of perspective and experience, and that honors the dignity, worth, and contributions of all.