Student debaters address school bullying issue

Aissaca Barry (left) and Nicholas Fei (right) present their position at the bullying debate. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill

December 3, 2010

Schools are ultimately most responsible for heading off school bullying, according to the conclusion of a public debate involving students from the Boston Public Schools and Northeastern University.

High-profile cases across the United States have brought bullying to the fore of public concern, which is why Northeastern collaborated with the Boston Debate League (BDL) to hold the informal debate on bullying and possible prevention methods.

"Tackling Bullying: From Tormenting to Talking" was cosponsored by Northeastern’s Department of Communication Studies and the BDL. Students from assistant professor J. David Cisneros’ serving-Learning course, "Argumentation and Debate," paired up with Boston high school students who are BDL members.

"My students learned a lot about the community that Northeastern is part of, the types of issues it faces and the ways that they can be involved to make a difference," Cisneros said.

The Department of Communication Studies and the School of Law have been active partners with the debate league for several years, working with students and hosting seminars over the summer and during the school year.

The debate highlighted Northeastern’s commitment to community engagement, provided an experiential learning opportunity for students, and forged stronger relationships with community organizations.

At the debate, teams of two students each argued for three different positions — that parents, schools or government should be primarily responsible for preventing school bullying. Judges and the audience found the "schools" argument most convincing.

However, Cisneros and the judges agreed that eliminating bullying must involve all three.

"Bullying is a very big problem right now that needs to be resolved as soon as possible," added Aissaca Barry, a senior at Boston English High and debate league member. "This debate is a great start to figuring out the best way to do that."

Cisneros added, "You need parents involved at home, educating their children and monitoring them. You need the schools involved to help educate the students and keep them safe, and then you need the government as the last backstop — in the case that something tragic happens, it can step in to ensure that justice is done."

Over the past semester, the Northeastern students have applied their classroom learning about argumentation theory and practice in working with the BDL, serving as volunteer judges at monthly student debate tournaments.

Cisneros said that the partnership has been a "very enriching" experience for his students, who have learned "just as much, if not more, from the (debate league) students as they have from me."

Steve Stein, executive director of the Boston Debate League, said these debates are an "incredibly empowering experience" for students who attend Boston public schools and helps them "feel they have a place in the larger community."

For more information, please contact Kara Shemin at 617-373-2802 or at kara.shemin@neu.edu.

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