Message About Options
Message on back of both cards
Messages About Options - Guys
Artifacts Designed to Improve School Culture
During my tenure as a school leader of an alternative pilot high school, it took some innovative thinking about ways to improve our school’s culture. Resolving conflicts was a complicated challenge and a priority. The traditional strategies, such as school suspensions resulting in disruptions in a student’s education, were ineffective and counterintuitive to our mission of educating students. Resolving conflicts that interfered with classroom instruction required solutions that would not only improve our students’ day-to-day learning, but equip them with the interpersonal tools needed to respectfully address grievances through a process resulting in mutually agreed-upon outcomes. The 9-Rs Conflict Resolution model is one of many alternate tools, that I created to engage students in resolving differences. ( See 9-Rs poster )
Initially, the concerns about student safety were primarily contained inside of the school and during school hours. But when we discovered that an increase in student absences was linked to their need to remain home to allow wounds to heal, we wondered about the circumstances endangering the safety of our students outside of school. Eventually, students shared with school staff members the reason why their peers were absent, and the facts were alarming. Many students were either healing from jumping assaults or hiding at home to avoid the attacks.
At this time, jumping, which is also a form of street fighting, had become a trend throughout many neighborhoods in urban communities. But jumping involved the element of surprise. Often those targeted for jumping were warned in advance but were never certain if the warning was a rumor or intended to strike fear prior to an actual attack. Those who warned teens of the impending threat coming their way were known as messengers.
After learning that so many absences were related to jumpings, I decided to meet with students, hear their concerns, try to understand why jumping was a popular trend, and ask if any of them had experience being jumped or witnessing others being jumped. Many students admitted that they had been jumped and described the physical pain and emotional humiliation they endured. That one meeting made it clear to me that while the physical wounds had healed, emotionally these students were going to be scared—and likely scarred—for some time. Listening to what they experienced, while watching their tears flow, helped me understand the gravity of the situation. Some students had already been jumped on more than one occasion.
Our meeting was held on a Friday. I was so taken aback by what I heard, and concerned for the safety of my students, that I was determined to find a solution as soon as possible. But initially, I had to process what the students shared. Eventually, I recognized some recurring themes. First, most of the time warnings of impending jumpings were delivered by messengers. The abuse required the presence of a crowd, and most importantly, the victimization always involved physical acts of aggression that needed to be planned in advance to allow maximum time for a mob to assemble. The event needed witnesses. The witnesses needed time to assemble for the highly anticipated public bullying ceremony. The planned nature of the bullying provided multiple windows of opportunity to interject, make a peace offering, and hopefully change the trajectory of the next impending event.
My thinking process led to wanting to understand the purpose of these publicly humiliating incidents. The second theme I noticed was that the jumpings seemed to fill a void of amusement and entertainment. Though a perceived conflict or affront might be the spark that led to a jumping, one-on-one assaults would often morph into multiple assaulters victimizing the teen or young adult who’d been targeted. Many students received extensive injuries; some cases were so serious that emergency visits to health clinics were required. Invariably, those on the receiving end of public beatings were left feeling shamed.
At the meeting on Friday, students had also shared what actions they took to avoid being beaten. It was apparent that the victimization of others was so terrifying, just receiving threats from messengers led some students to lock themselves inside their homes for several days. Their hope was that over time, interest in finding them would eventually dissipate. Absences from school were a necessity to ensure their physical safety. But many in their neighborhood knew why they had disappeared and where they were. The façade of being safe inside of their residences was the only defense they had. But it was just a physical protective measure. It did little to alleviate their fear and dread.
For the person intending to do the jumping, the fact that their intended victim was shuttered somewhere, in fear of them, was seen as a sign of victory. While they weren’t able to fulfill their thirst for a public beatdown, which they knew would end in a victory for them, they did succeed in winning the psychological battle. News of any concession to intimidation tactics spread across social media with the same level of vitriol that was focused on students who did show up and were forced to endure brutal beatings.
As I learned about this form of bullying, I realized that jumping’s popularity grew because of the insatiable appetite of those who took pleasure in witnessing the depravity of one human being over another. Social media platforms accelerated the speed of the humiliation process by enabling incidents of bullying to go viral. Bullies needed and found their ideal social platform. Opportunistic victories and bragging rights were captured and rapidly spread throughout communities within minutes.
After considering the many facets of jumping and how it was effecting my students, I developed a tool that would help counteract the isolation that jumping created and encourage students to stand up for themselves and each other.
On the following Monday, I arranged to meet with the same students from Friday and distributed business-size cards containing a message I created. The message was a counterproposal to resolve conflicts. After sharing the message, I made clear what my intentions were:
- My mission was to equip the students with a message to help others pause and ponder alternative options to resolve their differences. In some small way, I wanted to do whatever I could to mitigate the cycle of street violence and protect my students, as well as other teens.
- Recruiting students to become advocates for peace and safety only required a promise from them to not participate in any future mobs assembled to witness incidents, and a willingness to pass along the cards to others to let them know about the list of options available to resolve differences. I likened their role to community ambassadors responsible for promoting peace and safety in their neighborhoods. Business-size cards were convenient to carry around and made the process of distribution quick and easy.
The efforts of these card-carrying ambassadors for peace did impact their neighborhoods. By distributing nonviolent options to resolve conflicts and supporting one another personally, these students were able to lessen the acceptance of jumpings and help targeted students avoid attacks.
- Students participated in an orientation to learn about the importance of being role models. It was important that, as distributors of the card promoting peaceful options in their communities, their behaviors mirrored the message embedded in the card.
- They learned the importance of reaching out to others in similar circumstances.
- In some instances, they were able to discourage others from attending jumpings. The goal was to try to decrease the size of the crowd. (It seemed the absence of an audience, or mob, dampened the enthusiasm of planners of attacks.)
- If students knew who the targeted victim was, and when and where the incident was supposed to take place, they contacted them and informed them about the plan, and told them to stay away from the location.
- It was character building for students to experience how each act of outreach to others in potential danger helped keep them out of harm’s way.
The Community’s Response
- Business-size cards with messages offering opportunities to meet one-on-one to nonviolently resolve the concerns of those targeting others piqued the interest of card recipients.
- Students began to request handfuls of cards to distribute to family members, friends attending other schools, and others in their communities.
- Students reported that after distributing cards, their personal safety felt less threatened, and several students noticed a significant decrease in jumping incidents in their neighborhood.
- Over time, younger siblings, other relatives, and friends expressed their appreciation the students who prevented them from being a victim of jumping.
- A community-based organization formed by the city in support of a city-wide initiative to make all neighborhoods safe heard about the cards being distributed and sent a representative from their program to discuss the model and how the cards were created. The person assigned to our school’s community requested and was given cards to help support their mission as advocates of peace in the neighborhood.
- In 2012 mayor of Boston and school superintendent each received cards. Both were quite impressed with the model.
- One teacher shared the reasons why the strategy was effective:
- It provided the opportunity to think about the psychology of why jumpings occurred.
- It enabled people to deconstruct the reasons behind the jumpings.
- It constructed alternative measures to lead to different outcomes.
- It placed the responsibility of promoting safety in neighborhoods with students.