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Riverland takes a closer look at 'Bullied' documentary

In a documentary film viewed by a small group of students and staff Wednesday at Riverland Community College, a middle school boy purposely overdoses on pills but soon realizes he doesn't want to die, alerts his mother and has his stomach pumped at a local hospital.

What could make him think that he had no other way out? He was being bullied by other students for being gay. It was the topic of a discussion after they watched the film.

The student who attempted to commit suicide as a result of bullying was Jamie Nabozny. With the documentary produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center , " Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case That Made History, " his story is known nationwide. The film chronicles his ordeal at the hands of anti-gay bullies and offers inspiration for those fighting harassment.

Although bullying is not an extreme growing concern specifically at Riverland, it can be if bullies aren't addressed at earlier ages, said Ricki Walters, a regional diversity trainer and investigator, who sees the film as a powerful way to prevent bullying and raise more awareness about it.

"I feel very strongly that nobody should ever, ever be treated like that," Walters said. "We want people to feel safe."


Focus of film

Nabozny came and spoke to community members and students at Austin High School in February. Kirsten Lindbloom of Austin's Human Rights Commission said having him here at the time added to the depth of the story.

The film is filled with interviews, clips of Nabozny speaking to a group of students about his experiences and reenactments of the bullying incidents.

"I think that the film is about bullying," said Lindbloom. "But I think that the story is much bigger than that.

"Our students are bullied for so, so many reasons. It represents a small part of a very big problem that schools around the nation are facing and have faced for a long time."

Nabozny grew up in the small town of Ashland, Wis., and was bullied during middle school and high school for being gay. One incident, where he was kicked repeatedly, left him injured so badly he landed in the hospital for abdominal surgery.

He tried to speak up to his middle school principal, to which she responded with the old saying, "Boys will be boys."

He made history by suing, with the help of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, his school administrators for failing to stop the harassment. In November 1996, he was awarded $900,000 after a jury found the school officials liable.


At the conclusion of the 40-minute film, viewers are left with these words from narrator and actress Jane Lynch: "There's so much more that needs to be done."

Student reaction

The room at Riverland was quiet following the film. Discussion slowly started about the film and the long-lasting effects of bullying.

Riverland student Karen Rodriguez came to watch the documentary because of her younger brother, who was bullied in school. She said she had a feeling he was being bullied, and he was able to tell her about it and is now doing a lot better in school.

She described the film as being "really emotional."

Even if bullying has been occurring for decades, it's how the issues are being dealt with that's changed, Walters said. Austin Public Schools revised its Student Rights and Responsibilities manual in August 2010 to specify the behavior and consequences of bullying.

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