At the Empowerment Initiative, we’re constantly seeking new opportunities to inform the public about the many causes, consequences and forms of bullying. For this reason, I’m especially excited about upcoming performances of “Out of Bounds,” a Working Group Theatre play centered on cyberbullying.
Coordinated by the Lied Center for Performing Arts, performances of the play will take place Nov. 6 and 7 at North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I’ll have the privilege of taking part in post-performance discussions.
I’m also honored to give the keynote address at a related teacher workshop to be held Nov. 8 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. In exploring arts-based strategies for addressing classroom bullying, the workshop will feature drama exercises and games that offer practice for dealing with conflict, building empathy and engaging students in meaningful conversations about the topic. Participating teachers will also receive a copy of the critically acclaimed book “Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral,” authored by Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center.
The arts have a long history of bringing attention to social issues. We can all think about plays, movies, books and exhibits that have shaped the ways we think about certain topics. They bring meaning to our lives and breathe meaning into social issues. In fact, research supports the use of arts as a vehicle for increasing awareness and changing behaviors. Students who experienced an anti-bullying drama program in elementary school saw a 21% decrease in bullying victimization from pretest to posttest (Joronen, Konu, Rankin, & Astedt-Kurki, 2012). In another study, elementary students who watched a children’s opera about bullying improved their knowledge of the subject and reported a significant decrease in victimization (Haner, Pepler, Cumming, & Rubin-Vaughan, 2010).
Arts-based curricula give students, teachers and parents a common language to discuss sensitive topics, with the experiential nature of a performance drawing viewers into the story and the issues raised therein. As a result, these experiences bring awareness to social issues and can even spark behavioral change.
We thank playwright Jennifer Fawcett, the Working Group Theatre and the Iowa Arts Council for allowing Lincoln to experience “Out of Bounds,” which was co-developed with support from the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health and Hancher Auditorium.
Hancher aims to enrich people’s lives through “transformative artistic experiences.” We hope that “Out of Bounds” and its related events will prove exactly that for the students, parents and teachers who participate. We expect it will prove a transformative experience for us, as well.
Dr. Sue Swearer
Founder, Empowerment Initiative