At schools throughout the Okanagan, across Canada and even around the world, pink was the colour of the day Wednesday as students rallied to protest bullying with the fourth annual Pink Shirt day.
Sarah Clark, Reema Dhaliwal and Olivia Lepoidevin are all Grade 5 students at Wiltse Elementary, who take anti-bullying day very seriously. They helped organize the school’s activities for Pink Shirt Day, hanging giant posters, coloured pink in honour of the day, for their schoolmates to sign and make a pledge not to bully or to express their thoughts about bullying.
Pink Shirt Day got its monicker from its beginnings in Nova Scotia, when two students responded to seeing a fellow male student being bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. In return, David Shepherd and Travis Price went out a purchased 50 pink T-shirts and passed them out to their schoolmates to wear the next day. From that beginning, the idea spread like wildfire across Canada, and now around the world as international stand up against bullying day, as a way to take a stand against bullying and recognize the efforts of students and adults to build communities that foster respect, fairness, equity and compassion.
It’s as much about supporting the people who are being bullied as not being a bully yourself, said the trio of girls from Wiltse. And Dhaliwal and Lepoidevin have experiences of being both bullied and helping others.
Even at her young age, Dhaliwal has been teased for her ethnic heritage and the colour of her skin, as well as experiencing social bullying. One classmate even went so far as secretly convincing others in their group to abandon Dhaliwal, as they went off for another activity.
Some of the classmates went along with the cruel joke, but Lepoidevin stayed.
“We have been friends for a long time,” said Lepoidevin. “She was my first friend when I came here.”
Lepoidevin has been bullied herself. What sets her apart is not participating, for religious reasons, in events like Christmas. That, she said, draws the attention of bullies, who tease not only her but her seven-year-old brother, who is in Grade 2 at Wiltse. Lepoidevin has found herself having to look out for him as the bullies even stoop to stealing the little guy’s lunch at times.
Dhaliwal, too, has found herself looking out for younger students being bullied, witnessing a kindergarten student being bullied on the playground, with other students not letting her play on the swings. Dhaliwal said she stepped in and took the youngster away to play with other kindergarteners inside.
Wiltse Elementary, of course, isn’t alone in having bullies. From name-calling, unwelcome teasing or taunting on the playground, to ostracizing someone socially, it takes many forms and appears in every school and at every age level. It’s even moved online. It used to be that bullying could be left behind at school, but now bullies are reaching into the home as well, continuing to cyber-bully their victim via email, text messaging and other forms of electronic communication, like social networking sites.
In 2007, the provincial government passed legislation requiring boards of education to have codes of conduct in all schools that include standards for appropriate school behaviour. All school districts have reported they have codes of conduct in place. In addition, curriculum for students from elementary to high school includes skills for the development of healthy relationships.
The pink shirts are important, said the girls, not only as a reminder to take a stand, but to show how many students support the anti-bullying campaign.
“Hardly anyone in the school, especially the boys, wears pink shirts, usually.” said Lepoidevin, adding that the idea is to show bullies they aren’t gaining anything by their actions.
“Then they’ll realize that it isn’t fun,” said Dhaliwal.