‘To Be Honest’ PR campaign takes on bullying

A handful of LSU public relations majors are spending February urging middle school-aged children to take a stand in the form of a pledge against bullying.

On Thursday morning, Jacquelyn Duhon and Catherine Parsiola stood in the cafeteria at Staring Education Center in Baton Rouge in front of almost 150 students. It was the latest in a series of bullying talks held at middle schools in Baton Rouge with several more to go before the campaign ends Thursday.

“If you see bullying you can stop it? Yes, you can,” said Duhon, answering her own question.

The students are calling the anti-bullying campaign “To Be Honest.” They are competing against students at colleges and universities throughout the United States as part of a national public relations competition. They plan to talk to about 1,500 students.

The campaign includes Twitter and Facebook pages and a website where students can view bullying stories and share their own.

They expect to reach more than 5,000 students in the monthlong campaign.

The heart of the presentation was a video the LSU students compiled with comments featuring prominent LSU athletes and club leaders.

Duhon said the video took about three days to shoot and edit.

Duhon and Parsiola showed portions of the video and then offered additional information about bullying.

In the video, Daniel Obioha, a track and field athlete at LSU, talked about how infuriating bullying can be.

“Bullying, it does not have a specific cause, it makes no sense and it comes from all around you,” Obioha said.

One prominent speaker in the video, Mo Isem, a former homecoming queen and soccer player at LSU, talked about how bullying directed at her during high school because she was abnormally tall for her age turned her into a bully herself. She justified becoming a bully as a way of getting people before they got to her.

“I disguised it by being playful,” she recalled. “I was really trying to cut the legs out from under people.”

It took years before she was confident enough to treat others as she would have them treat her, and she is much happier as a result, she said.

Duhon and Parsiola emphasized the importance of not standing by and watching others get bullied, and if they are being bullied or see others being bullied, they should find an adult to talk to about it.

Parsiola said Thursday’s presentation went well. The students were quiet, attentive and asked questions.

“I could see they were paying attention by their expressions,” Parsiola said.

Long a problem, bullying has become more pervasive with the rise of social media.

Now bullying extends to all hours of the day, not just school hours with social media available 24 hours a day.

The problem came to a head in the Baton Rouge area a year ago when a student at Pointe Coupee High School committed suicide after months of bullying, family members later said.

That suicide and other such problems prompted the passage of a new statewide anti-bullying law that puts the onus on schools to do a better job keeping tabs on potential bullying.

Clara Joseph, principal of Staring and a 33-year veteran educator, patrolled the cafeteria during the talk and seemed happy with what she was hearing.

“We talk about this all the time,” Joseph said after the presentation.

Each morning the school, an acceleration program for middle school students who are behind and trying to catch up with their peers, holds a similar assembly led by Joseph.

Since many of the students have spent a lot of time together, some of their personal dramas arise with other young people from their neighborhoods or previous schools, Joseph said.

To try to get ahead of potential problems, Joseph and other teachers keep a close eye on the students, who range in age from about 12 to 17.

“If you really know children, you can read their body language,” Joseph said.

After the “To Be Honest” campaign wraps up, the Boys and Girls Club of Baton Rouge and the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission plan to incorporate elements of the campaign into their own student programs.

The LSU students plan to spend March compiling and analyzing the results before submitting their campaign to the judges with the Public Relations Student Society of America.

It appears to already be having an effect. After Thursday’s talk, two students approached Duhon and Parsiola to see if they could start their own anti-bullying campaign at Staring.