ORONO, Maine — Holding candles and wearing white ribbons, more than 50 members of the University of Maine community and others gathered on the Mall to reflect on the hurt, pain and other harmful effects of bullying.
Among the stories shared was that of a young woman who identified herself only as “Rebecca.” She spoke about the difficulty of coming out to her mother, only to find herself without any family support.
Another young woman said she was bullied not only by her peers but also by her teachers, the adults who were supposed to protect her. Now pursuing a degree in secondary education, the woman said simply and quietly, “I will advocate.”
Others, including representatives from UMaine’s Counseling Center, Wilde-Stein Alliance for Sexual Diversity and Safe Campus Project, came to offer support to anyone who felt threatened or harassed.
Perhaps some of the most moving words spoken during the event were those of someone too far away to attend.
During the vigil, which began with a moment of silence for those who committed suicide after relentless bullying, organizer Rebecca Hickman, a UMaine graduate student, read a letter from a close friend.
Her friend, who is transgendered, “was beaten, made fun of, had food thrown at him every day in front of teachers, food and beverages poured over his head, thrown at the dumpsters and garbage cans and simply just beaten on a daily basis,” Hickman said. Despite pleas to school officials, the bullying continued.
“Our high school administration told him, ‘Well maybe if you started dressing the way you should, like a girl should dress, you wouldn’t be hurt that way,’” she said.
Hickman’s friend described some of what he endured:
“I knew my day was going to be hell. I knew by going to school someone was going to go out of their way to wreck my entire day for absolutely no reason,” he wrote. “I had done nothing to those kids and they hated me anyway. No matter how nice I was to them or how hard I tried to avoid them, somehow they always found me.”
Though the friend is still struggling, he has become stronger.
“Sometimes life is crap but I always tell myself there is going to be more than this. I was meant for something and I’m not going to give up until I figure out what that is,” he wrote.
“It’s not easy but if you want to find something beyond what you’ve been through and find meaning in pain, you have to rise above it and say it’s going to get better,” he wrote. “I’m going to do better than that and just do it.”
While the vigil coincided with Coming Out Week at UMaine, Hickman said bullying reaches far beyond sexual orientation.
“This is a people issue,” she said. “As long as we are unique and different from one another, there will be people taking our beautiful differences and using them to hurt us,” she said.
“Whether we are gay, straight, transgendered, intersex, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Christian, Muslim, pagan, atheist, male, female, tattooed or conservative — or just simply expressive — there are those in this world that will target us, bully us,” she said.
Despite that, Hickman believes people can help bring bullying to an end by taking a stand against it and teaching children that bullying is never OK. Children, she said, must be taught tolerance and understanding, especially at home.
“We are all human, and we have the ability to love, and things do get better.”
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY DAWN GAGNON
University of Maine graduate student Rebecca Hickman (center) leads a candlelight vigil on the campus Mall in front of Fogler Library on Thursday night in honor of those who have been victims of bullying. With her are members of Women With Wings, an a cappella singing group from Bangor. An estimated 60 UMaine students and others participated.
Bullying addressed during UMaine vigil