How School Violence Affects Students’ Mental Health

Hayden Rose, Editor

Tuesday, April 5, a violent event involving two students transpired in front of the school, in which one was grabbed by the neck, using a pride flag they were wearing over their shoulders, and dragged to the ground, hitting their head on the glass front door. This event angered many of the school population, and worried even more, but thankfully, staff were quick to jump on the punishment of the perpetrator; the student in question was given a three day suspension along with subsequent complementary punishments.

Many people seemed to be in shock for a few days, and even I experienced it for a bit, but this got me thinking; how do events like this make the student population feel, and can everyone really feel safe in school when such violent incidences occur? What’s the overall effect of student violence on the rest of the students’ mental health? Although not everyone may realize it at first, mental health is incredibly important, and many go so far as to say it should be treated just as importantly as physical health. The aftermath of events like these can be the mental health equivalent of neglecting the physical health, such as a lapse in dental or optometrist visits; in other words, it can have a much greater effect on those inside the school than people first believed.

I was able to get into contact with some students who either saw the event happen or heard of it shortly after — who will all remain anonymous for safety reasons — and gained some insight as to how the student body was affected. The first thing many people experienced was the feeling of being unsafe in an environment meant to foster the safety of those inside it.

“I honestly found it very scary,” one student said. “The fact that someone was assaulted because of who they are just shows how messed up people can be.”

Another student had similar thoughts, “I definitely didn’t feel the safest after I saw what happened. I had a pride flag poking out of my backpack during 8th period too, and when I saw what happened, . . . all I could think was, ‘Oh s—, that could’ve been me.'”

A third even went on to say that they felt that, “Even though our safety was ensured when we walked into the building, the violence committed still resulted in a student being injured.”

Along with this comes the seemingly more obvious discomfort with being open about one’s identity in school. The fear that many students felt ended up influencing the way they act and perform in a school environment, essentially making them feel as though they have to hide their identities to stay safe within the school.

One such student stated, “Right now, I still don’t feel comfortable about openly being gay because of that thought of, ‘what if I’m attacked or bullied for it?'”

Another student shared this feeling, “I’m proud of who I am, but I don’t feel comfortable expressing it for reasons like this.”

On top of these feelings, some students also experienced anger towards the situation and towards the perpetrator, further detracting from learning effectiveness in our school environment. Some people even said they’re angry about the way the perpetrator’s punishment was handled and felt that a suspension wasn’t enough for the student in question. I, for one, can understand both sides of it; I believe suspension can be used as an effective psychological punishment that will ensure the student learns what not to do going forward, but I also believe that it may be treated as more of a free vacation from school. In this case, we just have to hope the student doesn’t think that way about it, but it usually does have an effect on the student either way. Overall, though, I share a bit of the feelings regarding the severity of the punishment not being quite enough for this specific incident; as far as I know, the perpetrator was only given a three-day suspension along with follow-ups conducted by staff members of BHS.

This group of students reported that the event made them angry not only because of what took place, but also because they felt as though the perpetrator wasn’t punished as harshly as they should’ve been for their infraction. “I feel in some ways suspension can make a difference, however, in many other ways it doesn’t,” one student said. “I feel like in this context it didn’t do much of anything.”

The incident has caused a number of people to feel unsafe in the building. For this reason, I set up an interview with a counselor here at BHS to ask about how the counselors are involved in helping the students feel more safe in the school environment. The counselors’ dedication to the students is admirable and extensive, and they want to make sure that everyone in school feels comfortable enough to learn effectively. Ms. Cline, one of our counselors here at BHS, said, “I think the most important thing to do as a counselor is to listen to the student and make sure that their voice is heard and to help them come up with a plan for the future.”

The process in which a counselor helps a student who needs someone to listen is quite effective, and they make this process available for everyone within the first week of school; “We begin to educate our students during our first freshmen classroom guidance lessons in August of each year,” Ms. Cline states. “We go over BHS norms and expectations, and how we are here to support students. Students are taught how to make an appointment with their counselor and how to communicate the need to see them if they are experiencing a crisis. We go over confidentiality and our limits to confidentiality and have them all take out their school IDs and go over how to use Safe to Tell.”

Aside from the initial education process, Ms. Cline described what the counselors do after an incident of that nature occurs, “After an incident, counselors and our social emotional learning coach get in touch with the student and their parent/guardian to get more information to see how we can best support them,” she said. “We provide consistent check-ins and make sure the student has a support system in our building.”

The counselors also noticed an influx of students after the event took place, and even more after a GSA meeting was held to discuss plans moving forward, in which the counselors made themselves available and ensured a safe space for students to come to. “Recently we have had a number of students come in to share their concerns and experiences. Additionally, counseling staff has attended impacted student group meetings to make sure they know we are here to support them,” Ms. Cline stated. “Every student on our campus deserves to feel safe and respected.”

Additionally, Ms. Cline also talked about the role of counselors in the school. “Counselors help educate others on our district’s policies regarding bullying and harassment,” she said. “We are also able to voice our ideas and concerns to try to improve the system. We aim to create a safe and respectful environment for all students. We aim to help students and families in any way possible.” Ms. Cline also made it clear that administration and the counselors are separate entities, and that they are responsible for different things in the school. “Administration is responsible for any disciplinary action. They also take care of informing the parent or guardian of Title IX information, which protects students from discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. Hate crimes are included in this.”

Ultimately, when an incident occurs, it’s best to take it to the counselors and administration, they are here to help you and they will make sure that you are treated fairly. Neglecting the feelings you’ve had because of a violent event can be bad for your mental health, and nobody in the school deserves to feel as though they have to hide who they are from others in order to feel safe. I completely agree with what Ms. Cline has said. “Making sure the students feel safe and welcomed at BHS is one of our top priorities; you have to feel safe before you can focus on learning. If any students have any concerns, please make sure to come speak with us in the counseling office.”