Tag Archives: Walk the Talk

Bias, Bullying & Stereotypes: The Power of Elle

29 Oct, 2014

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For today’s post, in honor of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, Donna talks about a recent classroom experience that reminded her of “The Power of Elle.”

Prepare has been hired to teach Walk the Talk. Today, I am pretending to be very mean to 3rd graders at a school in Brooklyn.  Prepare believes in learning by doing — so we focus on role plays — behavioral rehearsals — so students can combine powerful words with confident bodies in real-time settings.

These are the kind of things my teaching partner and I are saying:

“You sleep with a teddy bear; you are such a baby.” 

“We don’t want you to play basketball, you’re a girl.”

“You should be held back a grade, your reading level is so low.”

In each of these practice scenarios, students have the opportunity to stand up to my character’s bias and stereotypes. They replace a normal desire to “put the other person down” or label the aggressor by saying “you are mean” with using powerful, congruent, boundary setting statements.

Additionally, students practice standing up for others when they hear these put-downs. They get to embody what it means to be an ally.

So how do Bias and Stereotypes connect to anti-bullying work? In the above examples, you might notice that ageism, sexism, and ableism are at the roots of the put-downs. If one holds biased beliefs about difference, it is easy to express those beliefs through mean, aggressive, or thoughtless statements — even without any (conscious) intention to hurt the other person.

The scenario that stuck with me today was the following put down:

“I feel really bad for you because I am going to Disney on vacation and you have to stay home.” I delivered this micro-aggression with sincerity and concern, not any mean-spirited attitude.

Kids often struggle with this one ’cause everyone knows a Disney vacation is better. Right? Wrong! The student immediately understood that a classist belief was fueling my character’s pity. He confidently said, “That’s not true, vacations are about relaxing and spending time with family.” Right after that, another student, acting as an ally said, “And if it snows, he can go sledding and build snowmen.” 

As I said, these role-plays happen in real time and as the aggressor I was shut down. The room exploded in cheers.

This reminded me of my first year teaching Prepare when another room roared with cheers. I was in a classroom of students, one of whom used a wheelchair. Her name was Elle. I’ve already mentioned that I inhabit a character in these role plays who is mean, so I took a deep breath and decided she deserved to have as mean a role play as everyone else. “I feel bad you use a wheelchair.” ‘Cause everyone knows that is bad. Right? Wrong! Elle became calm and powerful and stated very clearly that she did not need my pity.

Spontaneously the entire room stood up. I was bombarded with a classroom full of students acting as Elle’s ally. I was shut down! The girls explained to me that they made a pact that they would never say anything to hurt Elle’s feelings. And while they were being kind and inclusive to Elle, they decided they would do the same for each other.

When I met that same group several years later as 6th graders, an age notorious for mean behavior, this group was still honoring their pledge. Elle was a popular, well-liked kid. And it was a grade that had deep respect for all of the students. Elle told me that she remembered her role-play and how proud she felt standing up to me and how supported she felt by her classmates.

That experience, 18 years ago, was an “ahah” moment. First, communities can change their beliefs — even ones deeply held around ableism, or sexism, or classism, or lookism, or racism. Second, once those beliefs about difference and otherness shift — it naturally supports inclusion and kindness.

Anti-bullying work that includes a deep understanding of Bias and Stereotypes can deeply impact the community. That is the power of Elle.

For further reading on the power of a single young person to rally a community and shift a culture away from bullying, please read:

Canadian teen responds to bullying with a positive post it on everyone’s locker at school. In trouble for littering, her community rises up to support her.


Watch this story about how Jetta stands up to bullying after she donates cut hair to cancer patient charity and kids at school behave cruelly


NJ teen turns body shaming graffiti message into a campaign for body acceptance. Her awesome pic and message on her mom’s facebook page goes viral.

Thank you Donna for sharing your experiences teaching Walk the Talk. We return next week with more in the series on media coverage of the Ray and Janay Rice story looking at allied behavior from James Brown, Terry Crews and others in the world of sports.

Please join us again and invite others to do so as well.



Starting with something beautiful: Comrade by Gabby Cogan – an incredible dance piece, inspired by her readings on IPV.


This month began with an email from someone who knows Prepare for the work we do at her school. “Someone I know is in a violent relationship and she has a young child; she wants to leave but is scared. Can you help her?”

Our colleague’s friend is dealing with her relationship outside the public eye. But some stories make the news, especially when celebrities and athletes are involved, as is the case with professional football player Ray Rice and his caught-on-tape knockout punch of Janay Palmer Rice. One of the important lessons I’ve learned from teaching Walk the Talk (anti-bias, anti-bullying curriculum) and gaining more media literacy is to ask, “Whose voices are represented?” and “Whose voices are left out?”

For DVAM, I am doing my first media round-up. I will be looking at how various media outlets covered this story . Even using the term story matters – it distances us from the fact that these are real people with real pain and struggles. It’s not a fictional portrayal of violence and the aftermath, but the lives of human beings not unlike those we may know in our own personal lives – like the person who emailed Prepare earlier this month.

Part 1 – Whose perspectives are represented?

Typically, consumers have a few favorite sources for news, which means only a few points of view influence one’s perspective on a given topic or event. Violence however doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To better understand the Rice family’s experience, we can gain greatly by being exposed to a wider variety of viewpoints that take into account the larger social context: issues of violence against women, Intimate Partner Violence, and the particular experience of IPV for black women, the social place of sports and glamorized aggression in this country, racism, classism, and privilege, issues of punishment, forgiveness and the comeback story. Lastly, I have to acknowledge the limits of my own perspective, so it’s on me to trust the voices of people with different identities when they speak from their perspective.

Take a moment and reflect on where you got your information about this event. Have you been speaking about this with friends or family? What do they say about Janay and Ray?

First we have Ray and Janay’s statements in interviews, at press conferences and through social media. Spokespersons for law enforcement and the casino contributed to the information flow. Media voices from TV, print, and Internet coverage were supplemented by content from experts in the field such as authors, researchers and mental health professionals. Women’s organizations such as NOW and the Black Women’s Roundtable of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation spoke out. Sexual assault and IPV experts and advocates contributed important information, and provided various sources for statistics [1] and resources [2]. @Rihanna was drawn in to the media fray.

We heard from the world of football: Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, owner Steve Bisciotti, and General Manager Ozzie Newsome, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, current and former players, coaches and owners from other teams and the National Football League Players Association. The current and former wives of NFL players also weighed in.

Social media had a large role as well. Hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft documented the perspective of people who have experienced IPV and #FireGoodell and #ResignGoodell added to the public conversation. NFL Game Changer was started as a way to encourage the NFL to take a larger role in combating the problem of IPV. Comments posted at online sites for major news media stories and in response to bloggers’ posts kept the conversation going.

As pointed out in more than one place, the voices not represented are those of the victims of IPV who have died at the hands of their abusers. Also not represented, the voice of the couple’s young child.

Whose voices/whose perspectives are heard – matters.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at the Rice family story from numerous perspectives:

Part 2 –Ray and Janay speak for themselves, hashtags and social media center the voices of survivors and advocates

Part 3 – The football world weighs in, @Terry Crews (Terry Crews, actor and former pro-football player) and @JBSportscaster (James Brown, anchor for CBS Sports and former collegiate athlete) speak up

Part 4 – Context and facts about IPV

[1] US Dept. of Justice, 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Report NIPSV, Women of Color Network Facts & Stats Collection, National Domestic Violence Hotline Statistics

[2] National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233, Jacqueline Campbell’s Danger Assessment Tool, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Domestic Violence Resources from dangerassessment.org.