by Emily Landgraf and Helen Mannion
In an effort to promote unity and togetherness, Rider’s Diversity Council asked a simple thing of Rider students: if you see a stranger in the halls, high five them.
The event, which took place on Wednesday, was created by the Diversity Council in response to the bullying that led to the suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi in September, as well as the suicides of numerous other homosexual individuals who were the victims of bullying.
“We were just throwing out ideas of ways to get the campus together and promote unity,” said senior Clarissa Gould, the diversity chair for the Student Government Association. “We started brainstorming ideas and then High 5! Day came up. We all agreed that [a high five] is a very simple gesture, but it can go so far.”
Senior Amber Currie, founder and executive board member of Rider Allies Against Bullying (RAAB), said that promoting unity on campus helps to reduce bullying, something she believes needs to happen.
“RAAB has not had any events as of yet,” she said. “However, our first task next semester will be holding a Pledge Against CollegeACB event. I think starting with this event will hit home for some people.”
Currie believes that CollegeACB, a website where students can post anonymous comments about other students on their college campus, is where the most bullying occurs at Rider.
“The one and only time I signed onto CollegeACB, I cried,” she said. “The things people say about each other are disgusting. I had no idea that people at Rider could be so hateful.”
Gould also believes that CollegeACB and websites like it pose a huge problem.
“I think in that setting where you can go online and be anonymous is a very huge deal,” she said. “Just having a site like that just shows that bullying still happens. Even though we’re in college and we’re supposed to be more grown up, it can still happen in the form of cyberbullying.”
High 5! Day came after the passage of the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” on Nov. 22 in the New Jersey Legislature. The bill is waiting to be signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie.
The bill, which is a direct response to the recent string of suicides by members of the gay community, states that training would be required for school teachers and officials as to “what constitutes harassment, intimidation, and bullying, and clearer standards on how to prevent, report, and respond to incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying.”
The new bill will strengthen the law set forth in 2002, which only required schools to develop their own anti-bullying programs but did not enforce whether or not they were used.
“We have been working on this for nine months,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle at a Senate Education and Assembly committee meeting on Nov. 15. “It’s almost like delivering the baby today.”
Additionally, the bill will also require administrators, teachers and other employees to complete training in suicide prevention.
Currie is a member of Garden State Equality, a group that helped to get the bill passed.
“This bill is going to be something that RAAB will have to educate itself on for next semester,” she said. “It is a great bill and I really hope that the school districts step up to the plate to crack down on bullying.”
Huttle stressed that the bill was for everyone who has ever been bullied and it was not just a gay rights bill, despite the sponsorship of Garden State Equality.
“One in six children are bullied on a regular basis,” she said. “Obviously we cannot legislate behavior, but we are hoping that this comprehensive piece of legislation changes the culture of kids from [grades] K through 12. This bill is not about implementing a uniform code of conduct, but I’m hoping to change the culture and be sensitive to the needs of others.”
Currie, who is also on the Diversity Council, said she loved the idea of promoting unity on campus.
“We’re all part of Rider and we should feel like one big family,” she said. “We on the Diversity Council have noticed a lot of cliques and separation around campus. That’s how bullying begins — because people are different. The more we know about each other and the more open we are to new ideas and people, the easier it is for everyone to get along.”