LEWISBURG, Pa. — As a grade-school student in upstate New York, Dan Murphy was bullied.
"I was a larger student, and people used to make fun of me for my weight," he recalled. "I was bullied from late elementary school until mid-high school, mostly for looking different. People don't understand what a detrimental effect they have. They forget about what they said a minute after they say it, but the person they are saying it to internalizes it."
Now an elementary education major at Bucknell University, Murphy draws on his past experiences as a staunch advocate against bullying. So when he learned about syndicated columnist Dan Savage's national It Gets Better campaign, he knew he wanted to make Bucknell a part of it.
National campaign The national It Gets Better campaign was launched in September 2010 in response to the suicide of Billy Lucas, Tyler Clementi and other teens who were bullied because they were gay or suspected to be gay. The goal of the initiative, which comprises a series of video messages and essays on YouTube and the It Gets Better website, is to prevent suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths by reassuring them they are not alone, they have support and things do indeed get better.
More than 200 people participated in the Bucknell It Gets Better campaign, which is co-sponsored by the Office for Residential Education and Fraternity and Sorority Affairs and Bucknell Student Government. The campaign includes a wall of photos in the Elaine Langone Center and another display in Bertrand Library showing students, faculty, administrators and staff holding signs in several languages with messages ranging from the standard "It Gets Better" to "You are amazing." The effort seeks to educate the entire university community about bullying and to offer hope and optimism to those who may be struggling with their sexuality or simply with the stresses of academic life, Murphy said.
Murphy, who works for the Office of Residential Education and Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, asked Associate Dean of Students Amy Badal and Grant Hoover, the assistant director of residential education for diverse communities, to help him secure space for a photo display carrying the It Gets Better message. The plan is to keep the display up until at least March 28.
"Dan was instrumental in bringing this project to fruition," Badal said. "He deserves to be recognized for his efforts and for bringing such an important topic such as bullying to the forefront.
"We are pleased with the response from students, faculty, and staff — many who complimented the campaign and were eager to have their photo taken."
Spreading the message The group decided to spread the message through photos rather than video to allow as many people as possible to participate, Hoover said.
"We wanted a visual presentation that was a sign of support for the LGBT community," Hoover said. "It does kind of feel like you are isolated in that bubble and you're the only one sometimes. The new space in the ELC allows for a big presentation to draw attention and draw people in. The participants could write anything they wanted on their signs. Some of the international students wrote in their native languages. Some signs were hand-drawn and others printed out."
Karel Parve, a junior international relations major who transferred to Bucknell through the Community College Scholars program in the fall, is pictured in several of the group photos. Parve said he knew right away he wanted to be involved.
A native of Estonia who moved to the United States for educational opportunities, Parve spent a summer at Bucknell in preparation for transferring to a four-year university through a scholarship supported by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. During the summer program, he had a life-changing experience. Someone made a derogatory comment about his sexuality one day. The next day, a good friend asked him if he was gay.
"I lived in the closet for 20 years, and I thought, 'OK, this is enough. I don't want to do this anymore,'" he said. "It is such a taboo topic in Estonia. Right now, there is no one to look up to and say, 'It's OK to be who you are.' I feel like my generation didn't have anyone to look up to in the gay, bisexual and transgender community."
At Bucknell that's different, said Parve, who now works in the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness. He wanted to help spread the message through the It Gets Better campaign in the hope that others will find the courage to come out or simply think twice before making a derogatory comment.
"They let you be who you want to be at Bucknell," Parve said. "For someone coming from a post-Soviet country like me, Bucknell is so open and loving. It has opened so many doors for me."
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