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Combating bullying through peer education

On March 31, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Stony Brook alumna Dana Moriarty. We bonded about the important things in life: print media, annoying classmates and our days as Stony Brook college students.  Though Moriarty graduated more than 25 years ago, many quirks about this campus have transcended her time here and merged into mine.

We also grabbed two slices of pizza and sat to discuss “Combating Bullying,” the theme of this year’s Northport One-Act Play Festival. Moriarty, the associate producer and sound technician of the festival, had insight on the pervasive issue of bullying. As I munched on my delicious parmesan-chicken slice of pizza, we talked about bullies, victims, and the pending anti-cyberbullying legislation in New York State.

Performed at St. Paul’s Methodist Church, the plays were written, acted and directed primarily by students from Suffolk County high schools. Students and professors from Stony Brook University have typically been active with this festival, as well. Lara Hunter,   the program coordinator of “Swallow This” at Stony Brook is a frequent contributor.

“I thought it was a very powerful show. Bullying is such a pervasive issue that I had suggested we do this topic. I thought it was something everybody could relate to… it’s touched everybody in one way or another,” Moriarty said.

The festival stretched for three days of performances, from March 30 through April 1.  Jo Ann Katz, the co-founder and producer of the festival, estimated roughly 300 people in attendance over the weekend. Working beside her was Michael Casano, a playwright and the other co-founder. The matinee performance that Saturday was dedicated to the student plays about bullying. After the plays, audience members were invited downstairs for a panel discussion. It was Moriarty’s job to oversee this panel. As part of the discussion, parents, students and playgoers were able to speak to Suffolk County police officers, educators, psychologists and bullied victims.

Katz said that a “common theme” within the five plays was that the victim often got in trouble instead of the bully.

“It’s complex.  It’s not just black and white.  We live in a society where everybody wants to put the finger on somebody else and not accept responsibility for the role they may have played in it,” said panelist Robert Goldman, the supervising psychologist for the Suffolk County Probation Department.  Goldman admitted that he had been bullied as a child.  “I had swastikas drawn on my locker. If I had the feeling of support and safety, that’s what I’d needed.”

According to the CDC,  160,000 children across the United States miss school daily due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. These plays shine a light on these alarming numbers.

“Between these statistics and the tragic accounts we hear about young people taking their own lives as result of constant bullying by their peers, we wanted to do whatever we could to address this issue with parents and their children, to help them better understand and confront these types of situations if they’re impacted,” Katz said in a press release.

Katz added that the one-act play festival only occurs in the spring, while other playwriting and reading events take place at St. Paul’s weekly. She explained that the process of producing this festival is a long one. It begins in the spring, when topics for the festival are chosen. Last year, the topic was cell phone use while driving. The year before that, the first year of festival, it was alcohol and substance abuse.

In early August, the producers send out submission requests eager to find the perfect plays to perform. After the selections are made, the rehearsals, the set building and the auditions take place.

But both Moriarty and Katz seemed pleased with the festival outcome.

“They all had merit and addressed different aspects of bullying and the ramifications of fighting back,” Katz said. She invites Stony Brook students to check out the festival next year.

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