Central Missouri leaders look to community to stop bullying

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COLUMBIA - Mid-Missouri community leaders are taking the fight to bullying to the big screen. 

Residents and community leaders from a number of mid-Missouri organizations  came to the Rock Bridge High School Tuesday to screen "Reject," a documentary about social rejection and its effect on children. 

Darin Preis, the Executive Director of Central Missouri Community Action, said that he hopes the film will bring to light some of the hidden causes of bullying, and that it can occur throughout the community and not just schools.

"Whether we know it or not, a lot of kids are feeling ostracized, and they've been abused by family members, by friends, by other students," Preis said. "We wanted to expose that issue because we know that community violence is rampant throughout our society, and we want to see if we can bring the community out to address that issue head-on."

Preis said the goal of the screening was to gather ideas from leaders on how to best utilize the film to keep communities talking about social isolation and bullying in mid-Missouri. Preis said he hopes the film will spark a 'call to action' within the community to come up with lasting solutions to bullying.  

After watching the film, the group held a question and answer session with the film's director, Ruth Thomas-Suh. The group asked Thomas-Suh how rejection affected different segments of the community.

"The reaction to ostracization is the same across race, age and gender," Thomas-Suh said. "It's flatly universal according to the research I've found." 

Thomas-Suh said the research she found indicated social rejection drastically increased the prevalence of depression, self-isolation and other mental illnesses in every demographic at nearly the same rate-- and was increasingly becoming the cause for young people committing suicide. 

After the video conference, leaders talked about how they wanted to generate interest for the documentary's public showing in October as part of campaign coinciding with national bullying prevention month. The group talked about working with Ragtag Cinema in Columbia to set up extra showings of the film outside the campaign.

Community leaders also discussed ways to keep the community talking about the issue after they see the movie, saying they did not want the film to just be a 'one-time discussion.'

According to a 2011 study done by the National Center for Education Statistics, around 1 in 3 students said they were bullied at school. While the study suggests bullying rates may be declining, Preis said he thinks bulling is becoming  more prevalent. 

"I think it's been getting worse, I really do," Preis said. "I think people are able to identify it better, which is an important step. But it seems like the pace of life and the levels of stress in households have all been going up, and the resources available to support these families have been going down."

 

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