New anti-bullying symposium aims to refresh Pink Shirt Day campaign

The event aims to give attendees the knowledge and tools needed to combat bullying in their classrooms and institutions

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In an effort to reiterate and shine more focus on issues of bullying and anti-bullying initiatives across the city, Immigrant Services Calgary has launched an annual symposium, with the first event set to take place on Pink Shirt Day.

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Bringing together community leaders, the Wednesday, Feb. 22 event aims to give attendees the knowledge and tools needed to combat bullying in their institutions and everyday life, and it will hear from youth speakers on how to turn understanding into action.

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Casey Kennedy, chief client services officer at Immigrant Services Calgary, said the creation of the symposium was inspired by the death of nine-year-old Amal Alshteiwi who took her own life in 2019 after experiencing severe bullying. 

“Upon doing a bit more research about what resources were available in the community around bullying and anti-bullying initiatives, we found out there weren’t really any,” Kennedy said.

“Over the past three years we’ve been developing a curriculum with youth engagement, focus groups, surveys and with partners to develop a ‘train the trainer’ model … to make sure we have some frameworks to lead anti-bullying initiatives in our communities as leaders.”

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Since the first Pink Shirt Day in 2007, society has changed greatly and refreshing the message to modernize the approach is vital to the initiative’s ongoing success, Kennedy said.

“This (issue) needs to be broadened now and we need to start shifting our focus as a community to tracking these numbers and prioritizing this as a real issue. There are so many different socio-economic consequences to bullying both at the child and youth level, but also at the adult level, and having some tools that we know are reliable to fight bullying are critical at this point.”

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She added throughout the model’s development, over 400 youth they’ve engaged with and have had participating in the curriculum have been reporting bullying incidents more frequently. They also feel safer when they witness bullying, she said, using strategies and learned life skills to cope.

Anyone interested in attending Wednesday’s symposium at the Kerby Centre is invited to reach out to Casey Kennedy.

In-person bullying declined over pandemic but online bullying remained consistent: study

Using research gathered over the course of the pandemic is vital to understanding how and why bullying happens, and even more key to tackling the issues, says Deinera Exner-Cortens, assistant professor of social work at the University of Calgary.

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A number of studies, including one from the University of Ottawa, showed that in-person bullying behaviours decreased during COVID but that online bullying remained consistent with previous years.

Exner-Cortens said this supports what many researchers and anti-bullying advocates have been saying for years.

“(The findings) suggest the importance of these sort of school-level interventions that we haven’t done, and were sort of forced to do because of the pandemic. And then the impact that had, as well as being at home and not running into their bullies, or they did but within a very closely supervised classroom environment,” she said.

More supervision on the playground, where a good majority of bullying happens, as well as more support staff, could go a long way to preventing bullying, she said.

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“Teachers are super overwhelmed that funding for EAS and other support staff has been cut, so investing in education staff is important so (educators) have the time and space to do that supervision, that their class sizes aren’t so big, that they can’t notice or respond,” she said.

‘Just because they’re kids does not mean we should avoid those conversations’

She added that getting to the root of bullying takes work, but must be done to shift the mindset across society.

“Kids who are in larger bodies, racialized children, children living in poverty — they’re all groups that as a society we take less care of, and those same ideas absolutely come out in terms of bullying,” she said.

“The shift in prevention is then dealing with that root cause to say, ‘How do we build critical consciousness in developmentally appropriate ways to actually get at why the bullying is happening, and where that power differential comes out of.’”

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She said engaging children regardless of age can help curb bullying behaviours.

“Just because they’re kids does not mean we should avoid those conversations, because they’re absolutely noticing these differentials and then using that to fuel some of this behaviour. We need to be engaging kids and thinking about what these power imbalances are in society, where they come from and what we can do to change that.”

On Wednesday, the Saddledome and the Calgary Hitmen will host more than 10,000 Calgary youth for the TELUS BE BRAVE #EndBullying hockey game against the Winnipeg Ice.

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