School bullying is by no means a new issue. But the age of technology has made tormenting students outside the classroom a bigger concern than ever before. And as more students identify themselves with the LGBTQ community, factors of gender identity also come into play. Ann Arbor recently held a summit that attracted politicians, educators and students from around the nation to discuss bullying, specifically pertaining to LGBTQ students. This summit is an important step for combating bullying of LGBTQ students in schools, but promoting tolerance and kindness for all students should be a priority. Public schools need to work to instill these ideas in their students and teachers, and the state needs to formulate concrete anti-bullying legislation.

According to a Jan. 9 article by Ann Arbor.com, Michigan is one of only six states without an anti-bullying law. There has been discussion over whether the issue should be handled locally, with school administrators instituting anti-bullying policies specific for their district, or at the state level. Many of the summit’s attendees voiced concerns that education of LGBTQ lifestyles is missing in local schools and the lack of awareness contributes to bullying directed at LGBTQ students. At the summit, attendees also discussed how the increased role of social media among students has impacted bullying.

One of the best ways to combat bullying is with open dialogue and education. Among the concerns discussed at the summit was students’ ignorance about the LGBTQ community, which leads to intolerance and bullying. If accurately informed of the about LGBTQ lifestyles, students would likely become more tolerant and kind to their peers. Teachers also need to be better trained on how to handle bullying in school. With better education and training, teachers would be better equipped to stop future instances of bullying.

Though this wasn’t the principle point of the summit, college students — including student body leaders — are in danger of being bullied. The recent onslaught of cyber-bullying has shown that a bully can target essentially anyone — like Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong, who was verbally harassed on a blog by former Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shrivell. The anonymity of the Internet is a breeding ground for intolerance that can seriously threaten students’ safety. Schools need to recognize the danger of cyber bullying and the harm it can cause for all students, and actively campaign against it in the classroom.

As a state, Michigan is behind the curve in terms of anti-bullying laws. Michigan needs to pass legislation addressing issues of bullying, with an emphasis on LGBTQ students and cyber-bullying. Though this wouldn’t completely solve issues of bullying, a law would likely deter students from engaging in hurtful behavior and encourage parents to get involved. This needs to become a priority for legislators to keep all students safe and promote awareness about the dangers of bullying.

While bullying may not be new, for today’s students it can pack an even bigger punch. But with increased anti-bullying education in schools and anti-bullying laws, Michigan can begin to work toward ensuring students’ safety.

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