By Alexander Campbell
Social violence, such as bullying, hate crimes, and, terrorism has been a longstanding problem, but perhaps more so now in this new world of highly advanced technology. Over the years countless individuals have spoken up against hate and abuse, but do their messages still apply today with our generation’s unique problems?
This past Wednesday, Fitchburg State held a symposium in honor of Robert Cormier in the library about hate, bullying, and terrorism. It was the second of the larger group events held in celebration of the inauguration this week. Cormier, a name you may have seen on posters and in display cases all over campus, was a very successful – if not, controversial – author who went to Fitchburg State for a short while in his youth.
His works are mostly in the “Young Adult” genre, and in most of his novels the protagonists inexplicably suffer. At the same time his novels very passionately explore themes relating to abuse and violence, including gang violence, giving inspiration to young adults and insight into this not-so-great world we live in.
Yet, it is important to keep in mind that Cormier was born in 1925, in a time where the problems we have today, such as cyber bullying, were not even conceivable concepts. On the relevance of Cormier’s ideas in today’s world, Professor Elise Takehana, one of the keynote speakers for the symposium, had said in an interview prior to the symposium: “[what Robert Cormier has to say is] clearly not ‘outdated’ since these subjects have continued relevance to our lives, but his work is a product of its time. It’s dated like everything else.” For contemporary readers, she said, his work may seem tamer in comparison, but we have to remember that he was one of the first authors to discuss such significant topics in young adult literature. She noted, “This was a shock from sleepovers, boyfriend troubles, and missing kitten mysteries.”
One of the main guest speakers, Dr. Elizabeth Englander, said it best when she said that, “literature brings issues front and center.” Merely by exploring this subject in his books, Cormier helped to raise awareness about problems that young people faced.
The point and purpose of the symposium is to, “continue where the books left off,” said Professor Annamary Consolvo. Bullying is still bullying, regardless of the century, and there’s still just as much of a need to raise awareness as there is to arm ourselves with knowledge of how to counteract social negativities, which is exactly why Dr. Englander was asked to come as a guest speaker in the first place. Dr. Englander is the director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University; the organization researches acts of violence/bullying and offers education to better understand, recognize, and prevent them.
Dr. Englander spoke in detail on various topics concerning bullying with today’s youth, such as how it happens through social media, and the practice of sexting.
She explained the definition of bullying and that it is the “small acts” over time that actually cause trauma, as opposed to, albeit still terrible, events that we see and read about so often. Specifically comparing it to Chinese water torture, Dr. Englander stated that bullying has a taken a turn for the psychological in small, deliberate and repetitive “drips” of aggression over social media, as physical violence is more readily stopped now.
Having established this, Dr. Englander said that the key to overcoming bullying now is “resilience.” The act of going to a friend or higher power for help does not always solve the problem, but it can make a person feel better emotionally, giving them the strength to press on.
If it weren’t for the work of upstanding individuals like Robert Cormier, the world would be a lot farther behind in becoming a better place. We wouldn’t have books to tell us how bad things were back then to see how far we’ve come now, and we certainly wouldn’t be having symposiums like this to combat hate, bullying, and terrorism.