UNI hosts "Bully" director and producer

Alex Libby, a 12-year-old from Sioux City, Iowa, rode the bus to school every morning, just as thousands of other students across the nation do. But, Libby's experience was less than enjoyable. He was relentlessly teased, pushed, shoved and called names in a space that was supposed to be safe for students. Unfortunately, this has become a common scene on bus routes, in schools, on playgrounds and in everyday life. It's called bullying, and more than 13 million American children will be bullied this year.

Panelists included:

- Lee Hirsch, director of "Bully

- Cynthia Lowen, producer/writer of "Bully"

- Cindy Waitt, director of the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention

- Alan Heisterkamp (panel moderator), director of Mentors in Violence Prevention at UNI

- Jennifer Waldron, associate professor of health, physical education & leisure services at UNI

- Michael Fleming, associate professor in the School of Applied Human Sciences at UNIa

- Willie Barney, principal at Waterloo East High School

- Nick Pace, associate professor of education leadership and secondary education at UNI

- Carolyn Hildebrandt, professor and head of the psychology department at UNI 

Libby is featured in the film "Bully," a character-driven documentary offering an   intimate look at how bullying touched five kids and their families during the  2009-2010 school year.

"We wanted to be inside that school year," said Lee Hirsch, director of "Bully." "What did it feel like to someone being bullied?"

The University of Northern Iowa hosted Hirsch and producer Cynthia Lowen for a panel discussion about bullying and screening of the film. Included on the panel were UNI faculty and area educators.

As a leader in teacher education, the University of Northern Iowa has a responsibility to teach future superintendents, principals, teachers and professors how to educate students and the community about bullying -- something Hirsch hopes the film will do as well.

"It takes a broad coalition of people from the community to tackle the issue of bullying and find a solution," said Hirsch.

The Center for Violence Prevention at UNI played a big role in bringing the film and panel event to the Cedar Valley. UNI's Center for Violence Prevention houses the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Institute and leads the effort to infuse MVP in to the teacher education and education leadership curriculum.

Discussions during the panel led to the challenges of moving past the "kids will be kids" motto, what it takes to change culture and climate and how leadership plays an important role in kids' lives.

Bully film screening
"Bully" film director Lee Hirsch and producer Cynthia Lowen attend a special screening of their film in Cedar Falls.

"We as adults and educators can preach and talk about bullying, but we need to empower our students about it," said Willie Barney, principal at Waterloo East High School. "We leave it in the kids' hands to understand that the only option that's not an option is to do nothing."

"It's important that we move beyond the 'kids will be kids' and 'it's just a part of growing up attitude,'" said Nick Pace, associate professor of education leadership and secondary education.

Hirsch and Lowen talked about their expectations before they started filming and how this project has spurred a movement of getting 1 million kids across the country to see the film.

"This film captures something that's so universal," said Lowen. "We weren't sure what to expect, but knew we wanted to show people the real face of bullying."

To date, more than 70,000 kids have seen the movie, and that number is growing everyday. 

And what about Libby? Numerous people have wondered his fate – is he still bullied, did the school or his parents take any action? Hirsch informed the audience at the film screening that Libby was in an airport the other day when two young ladies walked up to him and asked for his autograph. He's currently in high school and has lots of friends.

"Alex is a living example of what can happen in one year when you're given a voice," said Hirsch.

To join the Bully Project: 1 Million Kids movement, visit http://www.thebullyproject.com/.