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  • Writer's pictureMallory Fuller

Bullying Prevention Month with Bailey Hodson

I absolutely love Bullying Prevention Month. Not that I don’t get to advocate all the time, but this month, it’s a focal point, a topic of discussion, and everyone’s mind is on it. This month, I know my voice is heard and my impact is made the most.

Yet, bullying is a loaded word that a lot of people don’t truly understand. People throw it around as a synonym for the word “mean” and act like it’s a joke when the reality is far from that. I always wonder why some don’t take it seriously. Is there not enough education? Do people just really not understand it? These are questions that are constantly on my mind.

I should probably back up and introduce myself to you; I just got so excited to talk about my passion with ya’ll. My name is Bailey Hodson and I am the reigning Miss Southeast Iowa in the Miss Iowa Scholarship Program via the Miss America Organization. My social impact initiative is titled, The ABC’s: The Anti-Bullying Campaign. Thanks to my initiative, I have training in bullying education and prevention. Outside of the crown and sash, I am a middle school teacher (yes, I am one of those crazy people). Now, I want to share a little of my story and how I got to this point…and let me tell you- my journey has been long and trying.

It all started in high school- middle school really, but then again, who doesn’t struggle in middle school? Entering my freshman year, I was so excited for new beginnings, to become a member of sporting teams, to experience a new outlook, but unfortunately, that was far from my truth.

I remember it being the start of my second semester when things really took a turn. A group of girls in my grade (about 7 of them) began targeting me for reasons I will never truly understand. It started with dirty looks as I would walk by, but that quickly turned into snide comments that were far from true as I walked through the halls…yelling them after me as I walked away. It turned into shoulder checking me in the halls. It turned into tweeting horrible things about me or texting my phone to continue the harassment after school hours. It turned into talking poorly about me directly in front of me in class where I had no escape. It turned into telling me to kill myself because no one would miss me anyway.

I hid for a long time. Freshman year and sophomore year. My parents had no idea the extent of the harassment I was experiencing. They knew I was dealing with “mean girls,” but assumed it was just high school drama. It wasn’t until the mood swings got too much and I broke down and told them everything towards the end of my sophomore year. My parents wanted to go directly to the principal, but I begged them not to. I was scared of the retaliation and the backlash I would receive. They didn’t know or understand how powerful these girls were- they ran the school. Despite my desperate cries not to share this information, my parents did, and I was called in to the principal’s office the next week. He confronted me about the allegations my mom had shared. I tried to dismiss it all, but I knew was all the truth. I only agreed to what my mom shared and didn’t open up about the rest. He assured me that he would take the right steps in handling this and the girls would be talked to. That was my worst fear.

I believe he pulled some of the girls in and spoke with them about their behavior and what repercussions would follow if the behavior continued, but I will never know for sure- because nothing changed.

My junior year of high school, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was belittled, name called, thrown down (figuratively and literally) too many times. I couldn’t escape it and I had reached my wits end. So, I started building a case: saving all the text messages, screenshotting tweets, writing down everything that happened day to day, etc. There was no way I could handle one more year of being anxious, terrified, and dreading every day of my life. I brought all of the evidence I had to the principal and finally opened up about everything. An investigator was brought in to take over due to the extent of information. Moving forward, a large amount of the student body as well as some faculty were interviewed, and all information was laid out on the table.

The final day of the interview, the investigator sat me down. She told me about the process of the investigation, the steps she took, and explained everything to me in great detail. She further explained that in a normal case, she finds that there is something that the victim has done that maybe triggers the bullying or even finds the victim to be at fault in some aspect. It was then she looked me in the eyes and said, “Bailey, I have nothing on you. I looked and tried to figure out if there was something that was causing all of this and I can’t find anything you did wrong.” Tears welled up in my eyes. It was over. Years of blaming myself, wondering what was wrong with me, feeling like I was at fault all came to rest in that very moment. An outside perspective thrown into the fire saw it all. No bias. I was indeed a victim of harassment and bullying.

What happened next still upsets me, and I won’t go into details. But let’s just say the girls did not get/serve the punishment they should have. It all fizzled out to be more of a slap on the hand and not taken as seriously as it needed to be. But it was on record, repercussions were put into place, and I fought a battle I thought I could never fight, let alone win- and that was what mattered.

Now because of this journey, how it started and unfortunately ended, I could not just sit and be silent. I wanted my story heard and I wanted to make a change. I wanted others to have a happier ending than I did. I wanted schools to take bullying more seriously. I wanted others to be educated and have the resources needed to combat against bullying when it was thrown at them. Except I was just me. I didn’t know how to do any of this on my own and how to get people to listen and take me seriously. Then along came the Miss America Organization.

This platform was put in front of me that had a built-in opportunity to use my voice for good. I got to work creating my initiative, giving it a name, coming up with my plan of action, etc. I worked to get a title in my state of Iowa to be able to work with directors that could see my vision and bring it to light. I was got into several schools, I was on the news, I even published my own children’s book! My initiative was everything I could have dreamed and more.

But there was still this disconnect in my message and the perceived notion everyone has of what bullying really is. I was losing people. Because we all make mistakes, right? We all have been guilty of hurting people. I will be the first to admit that is true. But saying something hurtful or making a mistake once, doesn’t make you a bully. Let me explain.

Bullying is a loaded word, ya’ll. It is not a one column definition we can give. I reiterate this all day long when I present to people. It is not a synonym for mean. There are several parts to bullying and to actually qualify as bullying, it has to fall under all categories of the definition. Let me define it for you.

bullying: an unwanted, repeated, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance

So, let me break that down. To be considered bullying, it has to one, be aggressive behavior. Two, there has to be this sense of power imbalance. This could be actual size, strength, popularity, etc. Three, we have the repetition aspect which is what a lot of people miss. The behavior has to happen more than once or have the serious potential to happen again. Like I said, it is truly a loaded word.

I use the example of a lot of name-calling. It is mean, it is cruel, and it is unkind. But that is not bullying, and that particular incident does not make that person a bully. Now, if the person calls you a name every single day, then that does become bullying. Within my story, it is clear that all categories within the definition were met. There was certainly aggressive behavior, a power imbalance (I was definitely not popular), and without a doubt, repetition.

We have to start taking bullying more seriously and “name drop” the word like it’s nothing so when someone is truly being bullied, we do something. Right then and there- we stop it. It’s not tolerated. And I hope this gives you more clarity on what bullying truly is and allows you to break the stigma of “name drop” within your community. Because as soon as we label the word itself, comprehend the true definition, understand that is serious, and is not to be taken lightly, then we will be able to start actually doing something about the act itself.

This bullying prevention month, I encourage you to do two things. One, if you are a victim of bullying, share your story. You never know who will benefit from you speaking up. Believe me, I get it- no one wants to relive their trauma. But do it because you know the impact it holds on the lives of others. There is something about hearing a similar story that brings you safety and security- like you aren’t in this alone. Two, educate others. We can never combat bullying and move towards an end if we are not educating those around us on what bullying truly is and providing the proper resources for those in need. Use your voice for good and let it be heard!

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