PITTSFIELD -- Magdalena Gómez on Tuesday asked 50 people in a room at Berkshire Community College to raise their hands if they had ever seen anyone being bullied or had been bullied themselves.
Every hand in the room went up.
About half of those hands raised when Gómez had asked how many had been bullied.
But Gomez wasn't done.
"How many of you are still being bullied?" Gomez asked.
She looked at the brave palms held up in the silent air of the auditorium by men and women of varying ages, looks and lifestyles.
"That's three or four of you too many," she said.
Gómez participated in a three-person panel titled, "Bullying: Not a Rite of Passage," a free public forum organized by BCC's Committee for Diversity.
She and fellow speaker María Luisa Arroyo are the co-editors of a book published in May called, "Bullying Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions and Catharsis: An Intergenerational and Multicultural Anthology." They were joined on the panel by Lara Gonzalez, a student of Holyoke Community College and a member of Gomez's Teatro Vida, a program that builds youth leadership experiences through the arts in Springfield.
Arroyo said the book was written in direct response to the 2009 death of Carl Walker-Hoover of Springfield, an 11-year-old boy who reportedly committed suicide after enduring constant, persistent bullying. Arroyo said she is a former colleague of Walker-Hoover's mother, Sirdeaner Walker.
"We were so outraged about the silence in our own community about something so prevalent," Arroyo said.
During the forum, which was attended by BCC students and community members, the speakers prompted audience members to think about and share their experiences with bullying. Audience members shared experiences of being intimidated by words and threats; being physically shoved, hit or abused both outside of and inside their homes, and being sexually harassed and assaulted.
A few audience members expressed frustration with their experiences with hypocritical school administrators and staff at both the high school and college level for failing to pay attention to specific complaints of bullying, although they had encouraged the bullying to be reported.
"Bullying is something that happens all our lives, whether its to ourselves, our loved ones or as perpetrators ourselves," said Susan Pinsker, a professor of behavioral sciences at BCC who supervises the Committee for Diversity. Pinsker said this is the reason why the committee has held several forums on the subject over recent years.
Gonzalez said she's been both a victim of bullying from her classmates and teachers, as well as a bystander in watching bullying take place. She said her best piece of advice is to take action instead of saying things like "boys will be boys" or "get over it."
"If you watch someone being bullied by others and don't speak up, you're being a bully yourself," Gonzalez said. "It takes one voice to stand up and be strong. Be that first person to do something and see everyone start following."
Bullying issues related to Massachusetts have been recently spotlighted in mainstream media.
The Sept. 12 broadcast of the Fox hit music competition reality television show "The X Factor" featured Rochester native Jillian Jensen's audition. The 20-year-old received an emotional on-air embrace from celebrity singer/judge Demi Lovato after Jensen shared her story of being bullied.
Massachusetts legislators are also currently considering the proposed "Healthy Workplace" bill, which encourages employers to adopt anti-bullying policies and would allow employees in the state to be able to take legal action against a co-worker or boss if they can establish that they've been maliciously subjected to abusive treatment and work environments.
The bill states that between 37 and 59 percent of employees directly experience health-endangering workplace bullying, abuse and harassment, and that this form of mistreatment is four times more prevalent than sexual harassment alone.
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