Hickman High School and Columbia College unite against bullying

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COLUMBIA - Columbia College and Hickman High School teamed up to bring National Unity Day to the local community.

In support of National Bullying Prevention Month, they wore orange and had a day of outreach events on Wednesday.

Hickman High School started the day off with a pledging event.

School counselors Maria McMahon and Robin Hogan are sponsors of the HOPE (Helping Our Peers Everywhere) Club at Hickman. They set up tables with orange decorations and paper butterflies for students and faculty to sign against bullying.

"The flap of a butterfly's wings can create a tsunami on the other side of the world," Emelia Knarr said. "It's the idea that even the smallest change can make the biggest difference." 

Knarr, a senior at Hickman, says the message of bullying can fade away, so the butterfly effect theme was a unique way to spend Unity Day. She joined the HOPE Club because she said she has been bullied throughout her entire life.

She recounted one incident where a classmate told her she was "too fat" for a lead role in their choir play.

"Choir was my one place I didn't feel like I had to fit in a bubble, I felt like I could do anything there, be anything I wanted, do anything I wanted. It didn't strike me that I had to be skinny or fat for a role in a play." Knarr said. "It hit me like, wow I'm not even okay here. If I'm not okay here, where am I okay?"

That's when Knarr met McMahon. The counselor eventually suggested Knarr turn the negatives into positives by helping others who are hurting from bullying. Knarr said she is encouraged by the people signing pledges to stand together. 

"They're taking a stand that they're going to treat people with respect, they're not going to stand for people to not be respectful to one another," McMahon said. 

She said the school enforces these values every day, but today was the kickoff day for awareness itself.

"Not only just about national facts, but awareness about what each of us can do in a small frame to promote inclusion, kindness all over," McMahon said.

Hogan said everyone has made mistakes before but promoting awareness about how one interacts with others is important.

"There can be a culture of bullying that's accepted and put up with and tolerated or there can be a culture of kindness," Hogan said.

Hogan and McMahon said they appreciated joining with Columbia College and they were happy to continue Unity Day with Columbia College.

Blake Nielsen, an assistant professor at Columbia College said, “[It’s] an opportunity to show those that have been bullied before, they’re not alone. That this is an opportunity for them to recognize that there are events and groups that are out there that are standing together and joining together to stand up against bullying.”

One of the events includes a panel featuring staff from the college and high school. Afterwards, Columbia College students from Nielsen’s class are presenting academic research about bullying to the public.

“We have been working with Hickman students across the last few months planning, organizing, putting together this event," Nielsen said.

He said teachers worked to incorporate student ideas so the high schoolers could have ownership in the event. Nielsen said organizers brought Columbia College students on board so they could help educate the younger students.

“We want to bring visibility about this important event that we are standing together and joining together against bullying and we want to let others know where we’re at, what we’re doing and really why we are uniting against bullying,” said Nielsen.