Standing Up To Rush Limbaugh

Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke told the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee that contraception is a women’s health issue.

As a result, she was subjected to a personal venomous assault by a bully, conservative talk show host  Rush Limbaugh, who used his national radio platform to call Ms. Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

What happened after Limbaugh’s verbal assault is fascinating in the context of bullying.

When bystanders do nothing, a bully prevails and becomes stronger. And it is well known that bystanders often do nothing.

In this case, many bystanders chose to do something – they demanded that advertisers cease  supporting Limbaugh’s radio show. The result is that Limbaugh has lost dozens of sponsors. And he was forced to apologize – though, as Ms. Fluke notes, his apology is not very meaningful under these circumstances.

The Fluke episode lends powerful credence to the theory behind a new school anti-bullying program developed in Finland in 2007,  KiVa,  which is based upon the premise that bullies are rewarded by earning higher social status because of their bullying.  The program encourages bystanders to show that they are against bullying and to support the target.

Many school anti-bully programs show marginal results but a large scale 2011 study showed that KiVa halved the risk of bullying others and of being victimized in just one school year. Substantial decreases also emerged for other antisocial behaviors, such as vandalism, theft, and truancy, in addition to an increase in general satisfaction with school life.

Science Daily reports that an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Kansas (KU) plan to bring the KiVa program to American schools. Starting as early as the 2012-13 school year, a pilot program could kick off in selected classrooms in Lawrence, Kan. If shown to be successful there, the model could expand nationally..

Sandra Fluke was right, by the way. Not only do women use contraception to prevent unwanted pregnacy, but they also use it to treat diverse medical conditions, including dysmenorrhea, endometriosis, metrorrhagia, and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Feds Anti-Bully Plan

Minnesota’s largest school district will take wide-ranging steps to protect LGBT students from bullying and harassment under the terms of a settlement reached in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Dept. of  Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

The Anoka-Hennepin School Board approved the proposed settlement on Monday but it must still be approved by U.S. District Judge Joan N. Ericksen to take effect. The federal agencies will monitor the district’s compliance with the agreement until 2017.

The settlement is  significant with respect to the problem of workplace bullying for two reasons.

It sheds light on what the DOJ and the OCR deem to be important steps to address the general problem of harassment.

And the feds based their lawsuit on alleged violations of laws that potentially could apply to targets of workplace bullying — Discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S.Constitution; Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000c–2000c-9 (Title IV), and; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681–1688 (Title IX).

There are major differences between how the law treats students and adults but the Minnesota school settlement could be interpreted as evidence that society no longer condones bullying and harassment on the basis of sex or perceived sexual orientation. If that is the case, harassment of this type should not be acceptable in either schools or the workplace.

Authorities began investigating the Anoka-Hennepin School District in 2010 after receiving a complaint that it had failed to adequately address peer-on-peer harassment on the basis of sex and sexual orientation. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights subsequently filed a lawsuit on behalf of six students, who will received $270,000 under the settlement.

The students said they faced a constant torrent of anti-gay slurs due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation. They also said they were choked, shoved, urinated on and even stabbed with a pencil.

The students said an 18-year-old “gag rule” adopted by the district hampered the efforts of teachers to end the harassment and stigmatized gay and lesbian students.The policy required staff to stay neutral on LGBT topics in school. The policywas replaced in February with a new policy that requires district staff to affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students, including LGBT students.

Among other things, the settlement requires the District to:

  • Retain an Equity Consultant to provide a systemic review and recommend any needed revisions to district policies related to harassment, as well as district procedures relating to the investigation and response to incidents of harassment, parental notification, and tracking of harassment incidents.
  • Hire a Title IX/Equity Coordinator to implement district policies and procedures, monitor complaints, ensure that district administrators and staff adhere to sex and sexual orientation-based discrimination laws, and identify trends and common areas of concern.
  • Work with the Equity Consultant and Title IX Coordinator/Equity Coordinator to develop improved and effective trainings on harassment for all students and employees who interact with students.
  • Ensure that a counselor or other qualified mental health professional to be available during school hours for students in need.
  • Hire a mental health consultant to review and access current practices in the district relating to assisting students who are subject to harassment.
  • Provide additional specificity to further strengthen the District’s annual anti-bullying survey.
  • Expand the district’s harassment-prevention task force formed the summer of 2011 to advise the district regarding how to best foster a positive educational climate for all students.
  • Work with the Equity Consultant to further identify hot spots in district schools where harassment is or becomes problematic, including outdoor locations and on school buses, and work with the Equity Consultant to develop actions that better align with a safe, welcoming school environment.
  • Require District personnel  to investigate, address, and respond appropriately to every harassment incident, whether reported (verbally or in writing) by the harassed student, a witness, a parent, or any other individual; observed by any District employee; or brought to the District’s attention by any other means;
  • Provide contact information, including the physical address, phone number and email address, for the District’s Title IX Coordinator and Equity Coordinator.
  • Develop procedures for parental notifications that are sensitive to a student’s right of privacy regarding his or her real or perceived orientation or gender identity.
  • Provide a link on the school web site to an incident reporting form and allow direct electronic submission of complaints.

Harassment was defined in the federal lawsuit as ” … the use of derogatory language, intimidation, and threats; unwanted physical contact and/or physical violence, or the use of derogatory language and images in graffiti, pictures or drawings, notes, e-mails, electronic postings and/or phone messages related to a person’s membership in a protected class.”

The lawsuits will be dismissed with the district denying fault or wrongdoing.

Federal investigators reviewed more than 7,000 district documents and included interviews with more than 60 individuals, including current and former students, parents, district staff, teachers and administrators.

KiVa: Teaching Bystanders to Care

One of the most hurtful things about workplace bullying is the isolation felt by the target when co-workers run for cover or, worse, support the bully.

A new school anti-bullying program developed in Finland in 2007 is proving to be surprisingly successful in eliminating bullying by focusing upon the bystanders who witness the bullying but do nothing.

The program  KiVa,  is based upon the premise that bullies are rewarded by earning higher social status because of their bullying.  The program encourages bystanders to show that they are against bullying and to support the target.  KiVA empowers students to defend targets through skill-building and education, including 20 hours of activities such as discussion, group work, films, role-playing, and computer exercises.

Many school anti-bully programs show marginal results but a large scale 2011 study showed that KiVa halved the risk of bullying others and of being victimized in just one school year.  Substantial decreases also emerged for other antisocial behaviors, such as vandalism, theft, and truancy, in addition to an increase in general satisfaction with school life.

Science Daily reports that an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Kansas (KU) plan to bring the KiVa program to American schools. Starting as early as the 2012-13 school year, a pilot program could kick off in selected classrooms in Lawrence, Kan. If shown to be successful there, the model could expand nationally.

KiVa was developed at the University of Turku, Finland, with funding from Finlands’ Ministry of Education and Culture. In Finland, 90 % of all comprehensive schools are implementing the KiVa program.  The KiVa program won the European Crime Prevention Award in 2009.

KiVa  takes a holistic approach to the bullying problem, including a rigorous classroom curriculum, videos, posters, a computer game and role-play exercises that are designed to make schools inhospitable to bullying.

When bullying episodes occur, a small team of trained employees addresses the incident with the victim and bully or bullies to ensure bullying stops.  Peers of the victim are challenged to provide support for the victimized classmate.

“It changes the rewards structure,” said Patricia Hawley, KU associate professor of developmental psychology.. “At the end of the day, the goals of the bully are like yours and mine — they want friendship and status. They have human goals, not pathological ones. With KiVa, bystanders are set up to win by intervening, and their status can go up. As a bystander, I can achieve goals of friendship and status by standing up to a bully.”

The implications of the KiVa model for the workforce are obvious. What if employers approached the problem of bullying holistically, with the goal of insuring that bullying behavior is not rewarded?  Teams of employees could be trained to address individual complaints, and co-workers could be  encouraged to show empathy and support to targets.  Who knows? Maybe employers, like schools, would find their efforts rewarded by improved morale and substantial decreases in other antisocial behaviors, such as vandalism, theft, and truancy. Wouldn’t that alone be worth the effort?

KiVa is a Finnish acronym for Kiusaamista Vastaan, “against bullying”)

The Value of a Good Name

Research shows that workplace bullying costs American employers billions each year in absenteeism, higher health care costs, lower productivity, and unnecessary litigation.

However, the cost may be even higher in terms of reputation, especially in this age of social media.

According to the Ethics Resource Center  (ERC), a non-profit center that researches high ethical standards in public and private institutions. a good name matters for many reasons, some measurable and some not. In a new report entitled, Building a Corporate Reputation of Integrity, the ERC says:

  •  Consumers prefer to deal with a company they trust.
  • Employees prefer to work at a company they are proud of.
  •  Increasingly, investors believe trustworthy, ethical companies are a safer place to put their money.

In workplace bullying situations, lawsuits generate bad publicity that can tarnish an organization’s reputation, and targets of bullying and witnesses to bullying often bad mouth their employers after they leave.  Even one disgruntled employee who shares his gripes on social media can potentially inflict enormous damage to a firm’s reputation.

A  2010 survey by Deloitte found that nearly half of workers who plan to seek out a new job say they have been motivated by a loss of trust in their employer. Some 46 percent also complain about a lack of transparency in internal communications and four of ten say they have been treated unethically.

According to the ERC, corporate executives surveyed by Weber-Shandwick, a global public relations firm,  estimated that 63 percent of their companies’ market value is due to reputation. A good reputation may be even more important for consumer product firms, where consumers cast verdicts on reputation with their pocketbooks, withholding business from companies they believe are ethically deficient and rewarding those with good reputation. Research by Edelman, another global PR firm,  found that nearly three-quarters of consumers say they will actively avoid doing business with a company they don’t trust, while 85 percent will go out of their way to buy from a company they trust.

The ERC says ethical leadership is a key to building and sustaining a good reputation:  “ERC research consistently shows employees are more likely to act with integrity when an organization’s leaders are honestly and visibly committed to ethical performance.”