As the nation responds to the devastating effects of bullying, it is important to highlight the crucial role of an upstander. An upstander is a person who speaks up or stands up to bullying and intolerance, either to prevent or intervene when someone is being harmed.
By Becki Cohn-Vargas, Not In Our School Director
I, for one, would not be here if it were not for an upstander. My father’s family barely escaped the Holocaust after Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” in Berlin on Nov. 9, 1938. He and his family found refuge in Shanghai, China.
Even in Shanghai, the Jews were not safe. Meisinger, known as the Butcher of Warsaw, traveled to China and convened a secret meeting in 1942 with a plan to exterminate the Shanghai’s 18,000 Jews either by constructing a gas chamber or by sending them out to sea and leaving them to die. Mitsugi Shibata, the Japanese consul in Shanghai, became aware of the plan. He met secretly with Jewish leaders and warned them. When the local military police found out, Shibata and the seven leaders were tortured and imprisoned. However, the word got out to Tokyo and the extermination plan was halted. Shibata’s courage saved thousands of Jews in Shanghai, among them my father. My father, Hans Cohn, wrote about his experiences in his autobiography, Risen From the Ashes, Tales of a Musical Messenger.
Not all upstanders save thousands. We can and must teach young people how to be upstanders. Whether it is to speak up for one person or for many, being an upstander is not easy. Yet, an upstander who speaks up for even one person can be part of a tidal wave of change to make our schools and world safer.
You Can Be an Upstander: Ideas When Someone is Bullied
At some point, every kid becomes a bystander—someone who witnesses bullying but doesn’t get involved. Instead, you can be an upstander, a person who knows what’s happening is wrong and does something to make things right. It takes courage to speak up on someone’s behalf. But just think: by doing so, you are becoming a person of character and also helping someone else.
Here are some things you can safely do:
- Don’t join in the bullying
- Support the victim in private—show your concern and offer kindness
- Stand with the victim and say something
- Mobilize others to join in and stand up to the bully
- Befriend the victim and reach out to him/her in friendship
- Alert an adult
Do not worry—you are not ratting out the bully by telling an adult. There’s a big difference between tattling and reporting a concern. Tattling is telling to get someone in trouble, reporting is telling to get someone out of trouble.
- Ideas to Raise Awareness of How to Be an Upstander for Youth from the National School Climate Center
- Advice for Educators from the National School Climate Center about How to Help their Students Become an Upstander
- Advice from the National School Climate Center to Parents about Helping their Children Learn to be an Upstander