Outbreak of bullying follows leak of video

By: Annebeth Ahrenholz

For years and years, students have had it engraved into their brains, “Do not bully.” After all the countless posters, assemblies and reminders that bullying is never OK, most students don’t view it as a problem. It doesn’t seem to be prevalent. It doesn’t seem like a big deal until something happens to make it all blow up.

And blow up it did on Wednesday morning, Sept. 23.

Junior Allie Taiber and senior Megan Bradford were regularly going about their mornings as the awful, hateful tweets at them started blowing up their Twitter notifications and as people in the hallways started staring just a little too long. “The day before, everyone was saying that I was going to snitch. I thought it would all blow over by the next day. Going to fourth hour, a friend asked if I was OK. I said why wouldn’t I be?” Taiber asked.

Taiber was confused as to why the stares kept coming and people kept asking her if she was OK. This was probably due to the fact that she did not have a cell phone, so she could not see the terrible things being tweeted at her. “Random people were asking me, ‘Have you seen the tweets?’ Before I even saw any of them, I started crying. I went off into a secluded room, and Claire Chenowith asked if I was OK. As I finally logged on to Twitter, I had over 100 notifications, most of which saying, “f*** Allie Taiber”

The attacks arose as a way to shift blame for the previous night, where many students hosted, attended and participated in one of CFHS’s biggest homecoming traditions, Jell-O wrestling. This is an unsanctioned event, hosted primarily by the seniors. Students do not want teachers or administration finding out about the event because it is not condoned by them and never will be, especially with all the negative attention the school received from it in 2012.

After this year’s event, Madison Hall and Carly Extrom were tied to involvement at the wrestling event because of a video that was leaked to administration. Both athletes received a Good Conduct Code violation for their participation in sports due to violating the contract they signed that prohibits involvements such as this.

Both athletes, along with many other students said they feel that this situation and punishment is extremely unfair.

From there, students looked to blame whoever leaked the video, and rumors swirled that Bradford and Taiber were the ones that “snitched” to administration, but neither Taiber nor Bradford were even at the Jell-O wrestling and had never had a video of any of the matches. In fact, Taiber said that before this year’s event, she had no problem with Jell-O wrestling. “I don’t think it’s bad if someone participates, but you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. Coaches and parents warn you of the consequences.”

But now she sees it differently. Taiber said that every year something bad has come from Jell-O wrestling, and it is not worth it. “Lots of drama and fights between girls happen, and this kind of stuff. People who got 20 percent can’t be mad because coaches warn them. Cedar Falls is kind of known for Jell-O wrestling, and it doesn’t give us a good rep. I am indifferent about it. It causes girls to be looked at as objects roaming around for boys’ enjoyment. And the fact that there is all of this drama about Jell-O is dumb.”

Bradford agreed that Jell-O wrestling is a negative event. “I think it’s a way of women being there to show themselves off to guys. They are there to prove themselves to an audience of guys.”

But regardless of what either felt about the event, Taiber and Bradford were both falsely framed for telling administration about Jell-O wrestling. In fact, Bradford was seen in the counseling office talking to counselor Erin Gardner, asking if Taiber was OK. At that moment, a few of the boys who later tweeted horrible things at Bradford were also in the counseling office.

Gardner, the other counseling staff and administration were quickly informed of the cyber bullying occurring in the school, and they stepped in as fast as they could. “I was sent a message that Allie was being bullied on Twitter from an anonymous student,” Gardner said. “She was worried about Allie. Someone saw Megan and thought she was snitching, but she was looking out for a fellow classmate and then got caught in the Twitter gossip, and she got harassed. She stepped up to do something positive and take care of others, and she got brought down.”

Taiber and Bradford have no idea who actually told administration, but they both agree that no one deserves that kind of treatment.

“I just feel like they had no proof, so they wanted to pinpoint it on someone they thought was an easy target. Allie and I weren’t there. I didn’t know about it until the night after,” Bradford said.

Taiber has no idea how the rumors started that she told administration. “I kind of recently had a small falling out with a friend group, which makes it worse. You think they would step up at a time like this, but nobody really did. I’m big into girls leadership and stuff and leadership groups that promote healthy relationships between people.” She said  she believes that that could have led people to believe that she would be one to tell.

Taiber said she wanted to go to the counseling office after the bullying started but didn’t want to get bullied even more. “I called my mom, and she told me to go. I just kept seeing more and more stuff and went from there. I was clueless to it all until someone asked me if I was OK. That goes to show that it’s all done behind a screen because nobody did it to my face. Not having a phone, I had no way to see it. Having a phone would have made it a lot worse, emotionally.”

Bradford was in a girls leadership meeting when senior Olivia Carpenter came and found her and told her that her name was being spread around too. People were blaming her for “snitching.” Bradford then looked at her phone and saw it blowing up with mean tweets at her.

Both girls spent the remainder of the day in the counseling office. They both agree that counselors and administration were very helpful and did as much as they could. “All of the advice they were giving me, I had already told myself. They helped a lot, and people were coming in and asking if I was OK. I feel that the school is now ignoring it now that it is passed, but they definitely helped,” Taiber said.

Taiber said she is bothered by the way bullying is handled by those at the high school who have pledged to stand up.

“It’s not real. As much as we say we’re allies to it, nobody stepped up in the moment. I have always been one of those people to help someone being bullied. Even people saying sorry and stuff. It was all behind a screen. After being in that position, it taught me so much about how inexcusable this is. The biggest thing I want people to take away from this is cyberbullying is not OK, and it was all over a lie.”

Taiber added that it could have been much worse if these attacks would have fallen on a student who was emotionally vulnerable. “I can’t imagine what kids who don’t have the support and mindset about it all go through. Not everybody makes it. This leads to suicide. People were directly telling me to kill myself. This taught me a lot about people, humanity, how much people wanted to fall in. People care about getting the most retweets and favorites instead of doing what’s right.”

Bradford agreed with Taiber 100 percent. “It’s a very cowardly act, I would say. These people don’t have the guts to say it to our faces. It really shows their character.”

Gardner said she thinks that cyberbullying has always been a problem. It is just not always brought to the school’s attention. It is usually done with just a couple students rather than a group of students all against one or two students. “The biggest thing Megan and Allie did was they didn’t retaliate. They left it, and the people who needed to take charge, took charge.”

Principal Jason Wedgbury was notified of what was taking place as he started to receive screenshots of social media from community members, parents and students that were cyberbullying Taiber or Bradford. “I don’t know that we recognize our digital footprint,” he said. “We lose control over what’s put out there. You could feel it that day. There was not a positive feel in the halls of our school. It was a sad day for Cedar Falls High School.”

Wedgbury along with administration do not support Jell-O wrestling. They understand that it is a “tradition” but also say that it has not been around very long, and it is not a school-sponsored event.

“The more we take a stance against it, the more students want to take part in it,” Wedgbury said.

Administrators and staff have clearly stated that the wrestling is objectifying to women with the intent to engage in a battle and/or humiliate a person. “There is a reason guys build it, promote it and hold it. We have so many student organizations, such as women’s leadership, MVP and gender equity and equality, and Jell-O wrestling completely flies in the face of all of those organizations when you go back to the objectification of women,” Wedgbury said.

Gardener can understand why a high schooler would want to go and why they think it wouldn’t be a big deal, but she encourages students to take a step back and look at the bigger picture and realize that it becomes a bigger deal. “Applying for a job in four years, would you want them to see a video of it? In 20 years, if you had a daughter, would you want her Jell-O wrestling? If the answer is no, then why not? I think the girls there, their heart rates are up because they are nervous to say no because everyone is chanting their names, and they are embarrassed. They don’t know what will happen if they don’t go in. Who’s really enjoying it? The ones who are enjoying it the most arent even in the Jell-O.”

Many students, though, take a very different stance on this event.

“Jell-O Wrestling is a harmless activity that bonds students together. The school blew this way out of proportion, thus bullying came out of it,” senior Kaylene Konigsmark said.

Senior Drew Nida agreed. “I feel as if the administration overreacted and blew the situation out of proportion. It caused a lot of unneeded drama and bullying throughout the student body. I fully understand that Jell-O wrestling is against the administration’s morals, yet I personally felt they overstepped their power in punishing only a select amount of girls.”

Senior Courtney Banwart also has a strong opinion on the matter. She does not agree that it is degrading to women because the girls choose to wrestle.

“It’s just for fun. I think this type of fighting is one of the safer ways to go about it,” she said. “All you are doing is rolling around in Jell-O, which you can’t get too hurt from. It is better than spreading rumors or getting in an actual fight. The guys that go aren’t going to look at the girls. They are going because it’s really funny to watch us wrestle each other.”

Banwart said she remembers going as a freshman with her sister and how fun it looked. However, she has never partaken in the wrestling, yet she sees it as missed opportunity.

“I regret not wrestling this year. It’s a part of high school. It’s a tradition. I feel like it needs to be left alone by the school, especially because they aren’t breaking any rules.”

Banwart does not think this event was the reason for the bullying and does not see this repeating itself in future years.

“The biggest problem this year is what happened on social media. I don’t think Jell-O wrestling is what necessarily caused the bullying on social media. I think whoever took it to administration, that is what made the bullying occur, which I do not think is right. It got taken out of proportion in the beginning, then that added to it. The bullying was not needed, and I do not think it was handled well by everyone. Bullying is not what Jell-O wrestling is about. It’s supposed to be fun. We do it as a tradition during homecoming. I think that was the bad part of what happened this year, but as long as nothing illegal is occurring there, I don’t see this being a problem again,” Banwart said.

As a result of all of this, the school will continue its stance against the event, and it will continue to be a violation of the CFHS Code of Conduct.

“We often hear, ‘Police are OK with it. It’s not illegal,’ but that doesn’t mean that we support it. Legality does not make it OK,” Wedgbury said.

Taiber has been taught a lot through this whole tragic experience. “The silence coming from certain people spoke a lot. I learned in hard times who’s really there for you. It has just been a very good learning experience to friendships and humanity. I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. The self transformation I’ve had in the last several months, this was just a step in learning about myself and those around me and learning what’s important and what’s not.”

It’s safe to say that though the exact nature of the blowup came as a surprise to students, counselors, parents and administrators, with technology and Jell-O wrestling, some combination of trouble was inevitable.

“We can’t always predict the backlash, but somebody will always get negative backlash from this event. Regardless of what your personal perception is of Jell-O wrestling, it is undeniable that negative things continue to come from it. People have been bullied for periods of time after for choosing not to engage in a wrestling match. Fights that broke out that did not end that night, or when people take video and share it with others. The aftermath of that event has always been negative. Even if you disagree with our stance on Jell-O wrestling, I don’t think you can argue that everything after it is bad,”

As all of this starts to blow over, some students and staff would really love to raise awareness leading to positive change. Administrators have expressed an openness to looking at other positive events to hold during homecoming week, anything that doesn’t harm property, pride or people.

“There is no action we can do to make bullying stop completely. We try to equip people to have the right responses to negative situations,” Wedgbury said. He said he really saw leadership in some CFHS students. “It didn’t linger on after people stepped up. The main negative momentum was counteracted by people who stepped up.”

The administration plans to continue having conversations with all student groups in regards to bullying. They want to use this situation to gain a positive outcome in the school.

Taiber said she has one piece of advice she would give to a student who is being bullied now or in the future. “My main goal is to raise awareness. To people who do get bullied, it does get better; people who bully, it’s not OK. If you have an issue, talk to somebody about it. Anyone can tell you it’s going to be OK, but it only matters if you know it’s going to be OK, and you know who you are. That’s what helps people the most. Never be afraid to speak up for yourself or tell somebody it’s happening. In the end, the people bullying you are a lot more screwed up than you are emotionally wise.”

Bradford concurred. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she said as she paused and wiped a tear from her eye. “I felt helpless in the moment. Even if a teacher or any random adult can help you, it’s better to talk to someone, than to keep it bottled up inside.”

Other Stories/Resources on Cyberbullying:
Online Harassment opinion video
Henry Shockley’s podcast :”How Not to Hate Yourself”
Allie Taiber’s first person account of Cyberbullying
Daphne Becker’s first person account of Cyberbullying
Our View on Cyberbullying

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