By UW-L student Bree Levine
Earlier this year, UW-La Crosse students and faculty teamed up with Gundersen Health System to launch a website dedicated to helping families and schools stop the bullying epidemic.
Jeff Reiland, UW-L Psychology Department lecturer and family therapist at Gundersen, created the site, “Together Against Bullying,” with the help of a $62,000 grant from Kohl’s Cares. He enlisted four undergraduate interns to help him: UW-L students Alycia Brun and Corina Colon, along with UW-L recent graduates Karli Dahl and Caitlin Cullen.
“We truly, and most deeply enjoy the work that we do for this website,” says Colon, a UW-L senior. “Bullying is a heartbreaking occurrence. I am so happy to be a part of the possible prevention of some of these experiences.”
Reiland created the website because he wanted to learn more about bullying. As a childhood and family therapist, he’s seen many children come into his office with depression and anxiety issues because they are being bullied at school or at home.
“Bullying is a significant problem in our society,” Reiland explains. “Many people think only about being bullied at school, but being bullied at home is just as damaging.”
In his research for the website, Reiland found that the most effective bullying prevention programs include parents, not just schools. Often times, he says, schools don’t know how to reach parents. Reiland wanted a way to reach out and help schools communicate with parents about what they can do to stop bullying.
Reiland wanted to make it clear that everyone had an equal part in the success of the website, saying, “Even though I had the final say on the website, [the interns and I] worked as a team. I was not seen as an editor.”
Colon says she got involved because of her interest in helping individuals with disabilities.
“I have a passion for advocating for individuals with different abilities,” she says. “For me, this project was an opportunity to teach the public a little more about the world from the perspective of a child with a disability. I wanted to be a part of both bringing about awareness of bullying, as well as presenting possible solutions to prevent the bullying experience for many.”
Together Against Bullying’s impact
When the La Crosse County Anti-Bullying Task Force met last month, Reiland was finally able to see how Together Against Bullying has impacted schools around the county.
“I was almost moved to tears because of all the wonderful things the members of the task force had to say about the website,” says Reiland.
La Crosse and Holmen school districts already link to Together Against Bullying on their websites and refer parents to it for more information. Reiland reports that the districts find the website very helpful in their fight against bullying. In addition to schools, WKBT-Channel 8 uses the site as a source for bullying facts and statistics for their stories.
Community members aren’t the only ones impacted by the website. Brun is deeply inspired by the audience’s reaction to the anti-bullying presentations she and the other website team members give.
“When the audience comes up to you after [the presentation] and tells you they are using the research you provided to help them, it’s one of the best feelings in the world,” she says. “It’s so rewarding to know that what you are doing is helping kids right here and now.”
Cullen adds, “It is extremely inspiring to hear from the community and know that there is support out there, we just need to group together.”
What’s next for Together Against Bullying
Together Against Bullying is still in its infancy. Contributors have a lot more research and writing to do.
Cullen is currently working on making a guide for pediatricians that will help them detect signs of bullying from their patients. She is also working on a section about girls and bullying, and how the bullying is different between boys.
Colon continues to develop new activities that, she says, “teach empathy and initiate conversation among family members or education providers and children regarding awareness of the issues of bullying.”
Reiland continues his research on bullying and why it is such a prevalent problem in society. He hopes that his research will help bullies and victims alike, as well as educate the community about the dangers of letting bullying behavior continue.
Visit the Together Against Bullying website at www.togetheragainstbullying.org.