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Paynesville Press - February 22, 2006

Anti-teasing message given to students

By Michael Jacobson

Students have the power to stop teasing and bullying in schools.

That was the message that Baba Odukale, the human rights director for the city of St. Cloud, brought to the middle school and high school student bodies last month.

In a lyceum sponsored by the Paynesville Human Rights Commis-sion on Tuesday, Jan. 24, Odukale used question-and-answer dialogue to try and instill confidence in the PAMS and PAHS students.

When Odukale asked why students might tease or bully other students, the middle school students listed: to feel cool, to feel bigger by putting others down, and to get attention.

"How much sense does that make? " asked Odukale in response. "Because someone made fun of you and you know how it feels, you do it, too. How's that productive?"

Students, he said, have the real power to stop bullying and end teasing. All they have to do is to stop laughing, he stressed.

By refusing to join in a taunt, you make the taunter look silly and protect their intended target. "It's not really about the two of them," he said of a typical situation where someone taunts someone else while others watch. "It's about the rest of you. What are you contributing?"

You have to say that it's not nice, that it's not funny, urged Odukale.

"You can't just say: 'That's not funny, but I'm not doing it,' " he added. "As a group, you have power."

Students, and everyone else, can't sit silent and watch discrimination, said Okudale. "I'm here to challenge you. When you see injustice, when you see mistreatment, you can't just do nothing."

Students can change the climate in the school, he added. "If it's not right, say something about it."

Students should have another motive for limiting bullying and taunting, said Odukale. If their friends treat others that way, "what do they say when I'm not around?" he wondered.

Discrimination is not always race, noted Odukale. He asked the PAMS and PAHS students how do students in Paynesville divide themselves? Middle school students responded with a list of ways, including by group of friends, by body shape and sizes, and by sports participation.

"Just because you're different looking does not mean you are not nice," said Odukale, who was dressed in traditional African garb and spoke with a strong accent.

If you look at him, you might think you are very different, but you might find that you have things in common if you take the time to get to know him, he said. For instance, though he lived with his grandmother in Nigeria for a time growing up, he was born to Nigerian parents in St. Paul.

When he was in high school, Odukale moved to New York City, where the mostly black and Hispanic students made fun of him and told him to go back to Africa because of his accent. "If any of you move to New York City, you are going to sound funny because you speak with a Minnesota accent," he told the PAMS and PAHS students.

Odukale spoke to the Paynesville Human Rights Commission last fall and brought his lesson on human rights education in day-to-day living to PAMS and PAHS in January.

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