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Thursday, September 21, 2023
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Youth suicide raises awareness on bullying

Jamey Rodemeyer was found dead outside of his Buffalo home Sunday morning after taking his own life. He was 14 years old.

His story is one that too often devastates the lives of families nationwide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 24, according to In the past 30 years, these deaths have increased more than 50 percent, with over 4,000 teen lives lost annually. Rodemeyer's suicide marks the second tragedy to strike Williamsville North High School in less than two years.

As a new freshman in a new school, Rodemeyer had to grapple with the bullying that often comes with the territory of growing up. But his openness about his sexual orientation only added more fuel to his intolerant peers.

Rodemeyer was bisexual. And at age 14, he was brave enough to admit what some adults have trouble admitting themselves.

UB's LGBTA President Judy Mai, a junior health and human services major, was upset at the level of bullying that encouraged Rodemeyer to take his life.

"I think that it's such a tragedy because last year we lost a bunch of kids to bullying and you would think that within a year that it would get better but it's still going on and it's still prevalent," Mai said. "Things are getting better for the LGBT community but these things are still happening to teenagers."

At least 10 percent of youths are bullied regularly, and Rodemeyer was a part of the unfortunate few. New bullying studies in 2010 from the Yale School of Medicine report that there is a strong correlation between bullying, being bullied and suicide.

"I would say that [people] would have to look at some of these recent high profile events that show just how serious and devastating that [bullying] can be to kids," said Amanda Nickerson, the director of the Jean M. Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence.

"Certainly not all kids or even most kids that are bullied are going to go on and take their own lives. But it's highly likely that someone who's bullied, especially repeatedly over time, is going to be more likely to be depressed, lonely, anxious. They're going to want to avoid school and social situations; those are very common occurrences for kids who are bullied," Nickerson said.

Out of 612 UB students that The Spectrum surveyed on Thursday, 51.3 percent said they have experienced bullying.

"I heard about the Jamey situation on the radio through a couple of stations," said Clay Reeb, a junior communication major. "I think it's pretty terrible what happened, kids shouldn't be doing that, it's pretty bad…[Jamey] probably got bullied a lot and [was] pushed too far. Other kids didn't understand how much it hurt him."

Of the students surveyed, 83.8 percent of UB students think that bullying is a major problem amongst young people in the U.S. Being bullied was a daily routine for Rodemeyer. He was constantly harassed in school and confronted by his peers for being different. He used the Internet as a method of escape to voice his pain and frustrations through blogs and social networks. But it served as a convenient outlet for the bullies to follow him to his computer screen and taunt him in his own home.

After coming out and being honest about his bisexuality in December 2010, Rodemeyer made a Formspring account, a website allowing people to anonymously post questions and answers to his site. Social networks such as this and Facebook gave bullies the opportunity to attack Rodemeyer from all angles. About half of young people have experienced some form of cyber bullying, and 10 to 20 percent experience it regularly according to statistics from the Cyberbullying Research Center.

"Parents are truly clueless to the extent of cyber bullying," said Victoria Palmisano, clinical assistant professor in the department of Counseling, School, and Educational Psychology at UB.

"The average teenager sends out more than 2,000 texts per month. Unlike bullying at school, bullying online can happen at any time of day and can follow kids into previously safe spaces, like their homes or bedrooms," Palmisano said.

Anonymous posts like, "JAMIE [sic] IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND [sic] UGLY. HE MUST DIE!" piled on his page while friends and supporters tried contrasting the hateful comments with words of encouragement.

"I definitely think that the effects of bullying are just so detrimental to our society and bullying is taking a new face," said Active Minds Co-President Rachel Gaydosh, a junior psychology major. "It used to just be face to face, it used to be personal. Now, with technology, things are getting more complicated. It's important to take a more proactive stance on bullying."

Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been repeatedly bullied through their cell phones or the Internet, according to statistics from the i-SAFE foundation.

Gaydosh explained that her 14-year-old sister said that it's sometimes difficult to decipher the difference between bullying and what is simply a joke. Mai said that there are different dynamics to bullying as well.

"People just think bullying is just picking on someone, torturing them face to face but there are so many types of bullying, sometimes people don't know they're a bully until you confront them," Mai said.

Peter Williams, a first year graduate student in mental health counseling and former treasurer of Active Minds, would agree with Gaydosh's sister. He explained the casual use of the word ‘gay,' and how its misuse should be identified.

"If you do not confront prejudice you condone it," Williams said. "Consider reaching out and just talking to someone that you don't know, this is your life this is their life, I think it's sometimes too easy these days to rely on the social network to be social."

Rodemeyer's death has made national news, drawing attention from the likes of Anderson Cooper, ABC News, and even Lady Gaga.

The sensational pop icon was a tremendous influence in Rodemeyer's life. In a video he posted in May for the It Gets Better Project, a program dedicated to supporting the young LGBT community, Rodemeyer quoted Gaga stating proudly that he was "born this way."

On her twitter account, Gaga stated, "Jamey Rodemeyer, 14 yrs old, took his life because of bullying... Bullying must become be [sic] illegal. It is a hate crime."

Of the UB students surveyed, 79.4 percent believe that the U.S. as a whole is not doing enough to educate about bullying.

"I think there needs to be a lot more education, bullying needs to be tackled in some way, I think the school system needs to be more proactive at what they're doing… it's such a shame that such a beautiful young boy is dead now because [of bullying]," Gaydosh said.

Kylie Coogan, a freshman undecided major, believes that more could have been done to prevent Rodemeyer's tragedy.

"I think it's horrible, it's so sad. I don't get how people didn't see an issue or a problem and didn't try to help," Coogan said. "It definitely could have been prevented. By the way he was talking, I think if anyone stepped in they could have helped him."

Gaga is not alone in advocating the illegalization of bullying. However, steps have already been taken to enforce the end of bullying, according to Nickerson.

"I think a lot of people don't know that we have a law, the Dignity for All Students Act, that has been passed and goes into effect July 1, 2012, and that prohibits intimidation and harassment," Nickerson said. "[The law] relates to public schools on the basis of all sorts of different characteristics; race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, [and] weight."

Palmisano is also educating those about bullying from her clinical office located across the street from Williamsville North High School. As a passionate educator, she is proactively serving the community.

"Being an educator, I need to teach my students how to meet the immediate needs of their students and clients. As a clinician, I need to find ways to empower my bullied clients and help them discover their self worth," Palmisano said. "As a neighbor in the community I need to be aware and not ignore the pain and suffering around me."




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