By Briana Savage
OXON HILL, Md. — Donye Taylor could anticipate the insults from her peers as she walked to her classes last spring the morning after being attacked on Facebook.
Taylor, a victim of cyberbullying and a former student at Oxon Hill High School, was eventually pressured to transfer to another high school after she felt the harassment had gone too far, she said.
With the growing popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, other teenagers throughout Prince George’s County say they, too, have bullied or insulted by their peers in cyberspace.
Jalen Fisher, a Oxon Hill High School sophomore, can testify to the effects of cyberbullying. He said he was once a cyberbully who intimidated others by tweeting unauthorized pictures and making rude comments.
But he said he has recently seen the error of his ways after witnessing incidences similar to 16-year-old Taylor’s.
“Students were making anonymous Facebook ‘smut pages,’ slandering young girls and their reputations. It was sad because it led to unnecessary violence and tension,” Fisher said, recalling a specific incident last November. Now, Fisher has vowed to be one less bully in his school.
The situation was especially heartbreaking to Paulette Brown, the Oxon Hill’s peer mediator and student government sponsor. She knew one of the girls and her family.
“Her mother called me and told me her daughter had attempted suicide because someone had invaded her Facebook page,” Brown said.
Brown, along with the school’s student government association (SGA), responded to these incidents by developing an anti-bullying campaign called “One Less Bully, One More Friend” earlier this year.
“I never expected One Less to explode the way it did,” said Imani Brown, the vice president of Oxon Hill’s SGA. “The majority of our school is extremely urban and initiatives such as this one did not seem as if it would grow on students, but I am happy it did.”
According to the “One Less Bully, One More Friend” brochure, the campaign is designed to prevent bullying and to raise awareness about the harmful effects of cyberbullying. Students are asked to sign a pledge that commits the signee to reduce the number of bullying incidents at their school in a number of ways.
One of the ways student leaders and school administrators bring attention to the cause is by wearing T-shirts and bracelets emblazoned with the campaign’s slogan and logo.
“Seeing people walk around with this slogan on their shirt has inspired me to want to join the cause and think before I do things that can be hurtful. It made me smile because my peers genuinely care about those of us being bullied,” junior Shannon Abney said.
Student government members also conduct classroom visits and presentations to educate their peers and hear personal bullying experiences.
And in early March, they presented their campaign to county schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. at a regional student council meeting at nearby Suitland High School. Since then, the group has received support from other local high schools and the media, including Fox 5 News and ABC Channel 7 News.
The students hope to spread their message beyond local schools into others across the nation.
The Educator-in-Chief himself is helping to bring national attention to their cause. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama recently held a conference at the White House about bullying.
“If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not,” the president said.
The president has inspired Taylor to overcome her situation and help other bullying victims, she said.
“I think since he is involved, people will take the issue of internet attacks as the serious offense that it is,” said Taylor, who is now excited about entering her final year at Gwynn Park High School.