All Americans share a responsibility to prevent bullying, President Barack Obama said Thursday, as stakeholders met at the White House to tackle an issue that disproportionately affects those with disabilities.
“Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people and it’s not something we have to accept,” Obama said, acknowledging that he was taunted himself as a child.
The president said the gathering of about 150 students, parents, teachers, advocates and policymakers was intended to, “dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.”
The White House cited figures suggesting that almost one in three schoolchildren are bullied each year.
“It’s also more likely to affect kids that are seen as different, whether it’s because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the disability they may have or sexual orientation,” Obama said.
To that end, a handful of disability advocates and at least one high school student with a disability were in attendance at the invitation-only event, which featured a series of breakout sessions on topics ranging from cyberbullying to school policies.
The student, Ian Forster, 16 — who has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and paralysis on one side of his body — was dumped out of his wheelchair by another student at his Michigan school in addition to other forms of harassment. The bullying went unaddressed by Forster’s school until a legal team from the Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service stepped in on his behalf.
In addition to those who experienced bullying first hand, many students who attended the conference are actively working on initiatives to prevent bullying at their schools.
In conjunction with the conference Thursday, the White House announced new efforts in cooperation with Facebook, MTV and several education organizations to prevent and address bullying.