Episode 35: Jodee Blanco, Author and Survivor Turned Activist
Jodee Blanco is the author of seven books on bullying, including the seminal New York Times bestseller Please Stop Laughing At Me, a catalyst for the anti-bullying movement. As the movement's first voice, she travels to schools sharing her story to save lives and has spoken to thousands of people worldwide. CBS Evening News and USA Today featured her story, and she has written for CNN.com and The Huffington Post. Her anti-bullying program, It's Not Just Joking Around, has been implemented in hundreds of schools and her work is endorsed by the National Crime Prevention Council, Health and Human Services, American School Counselors Association, and scores of other organizations.
Jodee Blanco Bio
Jodee Blanco, anti-bullying’s first voice, is the author of two New York Times bestsellers including the seminal memoir, Please Stop Laughing at Me…. that was a catalyst for the anti-bullying movement. She travels to schools, sharing her story to save lives, and has spoken to thousands of students, teachers and parents worldwide. CBS Evening News and USA Today have featured her story, and she has bylined for CNN.com and Huff Post. Considered one of the pre-eminent experts on school bullying, she’s a regular commentator for both national broadcast and cable networks on bullying related breaking news, and her life story has been featured in hundreds of newspapers in the U.S. and abroad. Her anti-bullying program INJJA (It’s NOT Just Joking Around!), that consists of live presentations and a comprehensive character development curriculum continues to redefine the possibilities for curbing suffering in schools worldwide.
Intro Voices [00:00:05] Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Intro Voices [00:00:31] This is “You Matter”, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman [00:00:36] Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion, had to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Public Safety and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Jodee Blanco, survivor turned activist. Jodee Blanco is the author of seven books on bullying, including the seminal New York Times bestseller Please Stop Laughing At Me a catalyst for the anti-bullying movement. As the movement's first voice, she travels to schools sharing her story to save lives and has spoken to thousands of people worldwide. CBS Evening News and USA Today featured her story, and she has bylined for CNN. com and the Huffington Post. Her anti-bullying program, It's Not Just Joking Around has been implemented in hundreds of schools and her work is endorsed by the National Crime Prevention Council, Health and Human Services, American School Counselors Association, and scores of other organizations. Jodee, welcome to you matter.
Jodee Blanco [00:01:57] Hello. I'm honored to be here and I'm especially honored because I am an NYU grad and attended NYU from 1982 to 1986. Lived in Rubin dorm on Fifth Avenue and 10th Street. Yeah, so I am a proud NYU grad and I was even an adjunct there for a while and taught at the Center for Publishing.
Karen Ortman [00:02:24] Wonderful.
Jodee Blanco Yeah. When I got the call from you, the email rather I was so touched because I love my alma mater and I'm so, so proud that I went to school there.
Karen Ortman As you should be. And we're proud that you went here as well. So what was the catalyst, Jody, for the book Please Stop Laughing at Me?
Jodee Blanco [00:02:51] It's really interesting. It was in a way was divine inspiration. I had buried my past and sort of lived with the pain. One night at 2:00 in the morning, this was before the anti-bullying movement, this was even just right around Columbine, the term bullying didn't exist. It was not a part of our cultural vernacular. And I woke up one morning at 2:00 in the morning just out of a dead sleep and I saw the title of my book in my mind's eye. I saw the cover in my mind's eye. And I grabbed a shoe box, it was by the bed and a marker and I just started to write out the ideas. The next day I called a friend of mine who was an editor, I worked in the publishing industry, and I called him and said, what do you think of this idea? And he thought it was great. So I put together a proposal and ironically, every publisher in New York –and they all knew me because they were clients of mine -they all said, Jodi, we love you but bullying is a non-issue, there's no audience for this book. I ended up finding a publisher in Boston. It was published in the middle of the Iraq war. It got no publicity, nothing, yet within 48 hours, it was a runaway New York Times bestseller. That's when I knew that I had struck a nerve. [00:04:21] Then kids started e-mailing me saying, you know, I'm so lonely. I'm so miserable. Please, can you help me?
[00:04:29] And so I gave up my career and business and I started answering those cries one at a time. That sort of evolved into what I do now in schools, which is a comprehensive anti-bullying program that involves student presentations, professional development.
Karen Ortman So let me interrupt you or if I may. [00:04:49] Let's go back to the night you were sleeping and you woke up and there was a shoe box next to your bed and you started writing ideas. What thoughts, what previous experiences were playing in your mind that caused you to wake up and have this sort of epiphany?
Jodee Blanco [00:05:15] That's a really good question. And it's interesting no one's ever asked me that before. [00:05:21] When you are a bully child. Right. There are two types of bully children. You have the overtly bully bullied and all the obvious ways teased, made fun of, harassed, picked on, pranked. [00:05:34] And then you have the invisible student, and that's the student who just sort of disappears into the woodwork. Everybody looks past instead of at. Well, some students toggle back and forth between both. [00:05:47] And I was that kid who toggle back and forth between both. I was either ignored or brutalized simply for being different. I was just the kid that was different. [00:05:56] I was that old soul. [00:05:58] And those wounds, especially exclusion and rejection, they haunt you in adulthood. So, at the time that I had that sort of epiphany at 2 a.m. in the morning. That was a period in my career that was really stressful. [00:06:15] I was working on a film project because I was a publicist. I owned a PR firm and I was working with some really heavy hitters. [00:06:24] I was working with Jim Carrey and Milos Forman on the film Man on the Moon and Bob Zmuda. [00:06:29] I was one of the primary team members on that film, on the publicity side. I was feeling so stressed and all those that post-traumatic stress from my school experience started to articulate itself. And I found myself second guessing myself on decisions that normally would come to me easily.
Karen Ortman [00:06:51] And this is what, decades later?
Jodee Blanco [00:06:54] Yeah, I mean, I was from fifth grade through high school. I was the kid that no one wanted to be caught dead hanging out with. And from fifth grade through high school, I was really tormented by my peers before anyone even knew what the word bullying was; [00:07:10] then it was called peer abuse. That happened between 11 years old and 18 years old. And when I was working on this film, I was 36 years old. So, yeah, 20 years later.
Karen Ortman [00:07:26] So the memories truly do stay with an adult way beyond years.
Jodee Blanco [00:07:36] So. Yeah. I mean, it's really interesting, Karen, because one of the things that I did when I started on this mission, this anti-bullying mission, was I just didn't want to tell my story. I also wanted to define a complex demographic because you have the kids who are bullied now or excluded now. Right? You have those kids but then you also have what I call the adult survivor of peer abuse. The adult survivor of peer abuse is a kid who is either bullied or excluded when they were in school. [00:08:13] And they never really sort of soothed or healed those wounds [00:08:23] so they are in some way subliminally a hostage of those experiences. That post-traumatic stress, that trauma articulates itself in every area of their lives. It affects them at work. It affects them as parents. It affects their health. And we have all of these adults roaming around who are still carrying the trauma from being the outcast in school.
Karen Ortman [00:08:48] So what's the recourse for that? I mean, while we're on that subject right now for adults. Is there a simple answer? What does one do? Who has suffered as you had in your youth? [00:09:03] And they're walking around carrying this post-traumatic stress.
Jodee Blanco [00:09:09] There's a few things that you can do. First of all, find a therapist who understands post-traumatic stress and the long term impact of abuse but you have to make sure that this therapist considers school bullying as severe a form of abuse as any of the other abuses. Some therapists take it very seriously and others don't so you want to find a therapist really not only accepts bullying as a profound form of abuse, but also understands the dynamics of it. Second, if you have a reunion coming up like a high school or a middle school reunion and you're afraid to go - face your fear - but go with a safe person, not a date, who's going to make you nervous or uncomfortable? Go with a friend.
Karen Ortman [00:10:03] So you spoke of burying your past and living with the pain regarding your experience as a bullied child. At the time it was happening, did you recognize it as - [00:10:21] well bullying wasn't a term –but did you recognize it as abnormal behavior? Did you tell anybody? Was there support for you in any way, shape or form?
Jodee Blanco [00:10:32] No. First of all, you have to put this into context. So, I'm 56 years old. When I was in school, say this started in fifth grade, you're talking 1975 to 1982. Bullying did not exist. The term was peer pressure. What constantly happened was that, [00:10:54] here's an example of a typical way that I got bullied, this one happened in high school. The most popular girls at school, and there are two types of popular kids in the school, elite leaders and elite tormentors. Elite tormentors are the mean members of the cool crowd [00:11:11] and often they fool the adults because on the outside these kids seem to have it all together; they get good grades, they're active, they're vibrant and nobody suspects that these wonderful, ebullient kids are sending other kids home in tears every day not by virtue of the acts of cruelty they commit, but more in terms of the acceptance they deny. Well, [00:11:37] when I was in high school a group of these girls invited me to a cool kids’ party and I was so excited. [00:11:45] I spent all day getting ready, [00:11:46] my dad even said I could take the car. So, I drove myself to where the party was. It wasn't anyone's house. It was a [00:11:57] parking lot and forest preserve. When I got there, all the cool kids hopped out of the woods. They laughed at me and said, like, we would ever invite you to anything. And they just left me there. That was incredibly traumatic. I mean, that really left an imprint on me. That was only one of many, many, many similar abuses. [00:12:21] The interesting thing about all that is that, yes, I've been telling my mom, my dad wasn't around much, but I'd been telling my mom since I was in the fifth grade. [00:12:34] The challenge was that the schools would tell us there's something wrong with Jodee, nobody likes her. There's something wrong with Jodee. So I would get dragged from one psychiatrist to another, one psychologist. I was put on tons of meds that I would just wash down the toilet. I was even brought to a neurosurgeon because my mom suspected that I might have a tumor that was causing me to be anti-social. The interesting thing is there's a lot of dynamics here. [00:13:07] One of the things is that my mother is a borderline. [00:13:15] So, she has a narcissistic personality disorder. So as a kid, the normal things that a mother would do like going to the principal or going to the parents of the bullies, she didn't do it and it exacerbated the situation. So, if there's anybody listening to us now, who’s like even currently an NYU student or you're an undergrad. I want to get this out. I was terrified when I moved into the Ruban dorm. I was terrified that nobody would like me. I remember what I was wearing the day I moved into the dorm, and I try too hard to please everybody. I tried too hard to make the kids in that dorm like me. And finally, a group of kids in the dorm recognized my fear and they said, why are you so scared? Why are you trying so hard? And when I finally let my guard down and told them what my middle and high school experience had been like, they took me under their wing, their wings. And from that moment on, I had a lot of friends and I was popular. I adjusted and it was the best four years of my life. And so looping back to your original question about what you can do if you are still feeling the trauma from your secondary school experience. For adults, what I said, go to your reunion with a safe person and find a therapist with whom you can work. But let's say that we have someone listening to us who is going to be a freshman this fall, okay, or is going to start grad school there and they have some social anxiety, they need truth and compassion, compassion for self. Tell the people in your dorm or tell your schoolmates that you're afraid. Tell them what you went through. Be honest and let them in on your fear because they're not high schoolers anymore. Once you reach college I think there's a certain level of maturity that starts to at least to take hold naturally. I think that's what shaped me, I just told the truth and I remember because I went from being the outcast all the way through school to starting college at NYU and being actually popular. It was stunning. And it happened because I told the truth about my trauma. So if there's anyone listening to us who's been traumatized by bullying, you have got to tell the truth, not just to a therapist or your parents or your friends but the people whose acceptance you need and you want; the people whose friendship can give you wings. You need to be honest.
Karen Ortman [00:16:10] Now, let me ask you this, when you were in high school, you were experienced experiencing the bullying. Had you opened up and been honest with your peers at that time, do you think the outcome would have been the same for you as it was when you finally got to NYU?
Jodee Blanco [00:16:24] Absolutely not. No. And why? Well, first of all, well there's a multiplicity of reasons. [00:16:29] Number one, the typical profile of the bully, which I'm actually going to dedicate a doctoral thesis to, the typical profile of the bully student is what I call the ancient child. The ancient child is the kid who's an old soul. [00:16:47] This is the kid who is typically more verbally, socially and intellectually sophisticated than their peers. They typically have an extraordinary vocabulary and are very articulate. They also have a compassion and a capacity for empathy far beyond their years. When you're talking to an ancient child sometimes you have to pinch yourself and remind yourself that this is still a kid. The reason the ancient child struggles is because they're too mature spiritually, intellectually, verbally and socially to connect meaningfully with their peers. Their peers think they're weird, but they're too young chronologically and emotionally to connect to and have a meaningful social relationship with adults so they sort of slip through the cracks. [00:17:36] The ancient child, that old soul, [00:17:42] even though they're sure on the outside, on the inside, they can only be their emotions. [00:17:50] They can only be their biological age. They can only be as emotionally mature as their biological age [00:17:56] and in middle school and high school there's still an immaturity there. [00:18:01] And so if I would have said to my classmates this same truth that I told my dorm mates it would have been a very different reaction. [00:18:12] And further, because I was an old soul so I could do it, but they couldn’t. They weren't yet mature enough to handle that.
Karen Ortman [00:18:22] So the majority came with your college peers.
Jodee Blanco [00:18:26] Yes. And other thing is this, is that there's also stigma, Karen. Like, if you start at a school and you're brand new and you find a couple of people you can trust and you can confide, that's one thing. [00:18:40] But if you've been with the same classmates since the very early elementary years and you've already been stigmatized as the outcast, whatever you do, they're going to find it. They're going to find fodder to punish you with it. [00:18:55] So it's a cycle, right?
Karen Ortman [00:19:01] So let's get to high school reunion time. You graduated high school, and I know that there was an experience you had going to your reunion. Was it the first reunion? Second reunion. Third which reunion? Was it.
[00:19:20] Well, I had gone to a grammar school reunion when I was 24, a 10-year grammar school reunion and I was nervous about that, too. It turned out all right, but it wasn't traumatic going to my grammar school reunion because while I got bullied in grammar school, high school in many ways was worse. So I went to my grammar school reunion and I was afraid and it turned out all right. [00:19:52] My high school reunion, bear in mind, was 14 years later when I was 38 and the night of my reunion, I had a complete post-traumatic stress. I was terrified to get out of the car. And I remember thinking, I'm a celebrity publicist. I'm working on a project with Jim Carrey. I just had dinner with Tony Bennett, for goodness sake, and here I am terrified to see the kids I went to high school with.
[00:20:25] How did you feel? Leading up to the reunion? [00:20:28] Were you as nervous and concerned thinking about it as you were the actual day of the event?
[00:20:42] Thinking about it, I was sort of excited. I was kind of anticipatory. I thought, OK, I'm going to dress really great. I'm going to look terrific. [00:20:52] I'm going to go in there feeling confident because I had this really cool career. Right? I own my own PR firm, I founded it myself. I had these huge celebrity clients and I built it from nothing. I mean, there you go. There is a great homage to NYU. I would never have had the career I had if I hadn't gone to New York University, there's absolutely no way. Right? That school gave me my life. I mean, I'm telling you, NYU gave me my life. It did. It saved my life and then gave me a life. Anyways, I left my school. Anyway, so I was anticipatory. [00:21:38] It was the night of the reunion; when I pulled up where the reunion was it was [00:21:43] at this big sort of outdoor, wonderful facility, and I remember sitting in my car, my hands were sweating. I felt sick to my stomach.
Karen Ortman You were by yourself?
Jodee Blanco I was all alone. I was gonna go by myself?
Karen Ortman [00:21:57] Were you parked where other people could see you or were you parked in a distance in a parking lot?
Jodee Blanco [00:22:02] I was in the parking lot and I saw kids that had tormented me in school getting out of their cars and walking into the banquet. And I froze. [00:22:17] In fact, I thought about I thought about calling one of my celebrity clients, you know, just to give me a boost. So I did something else, which was very effective, actually. When I was a kid, I had posters of all my favorite teen idols on my bedroom walls and Styx, was my favorite rock group and when I became an adult, I was their PR consultant and I became really close to that band, I still am. The night of my reunion, I just blasted Styx music in my car for about 15 minutes to give myself courage. And then I finally walked out of the car and into the reunion. [00:23:01] And here's another thing, because I think interviews like this podcast should be helpful and descriptive. [00:23:07] And you had asked before
[00:23:10] what can people do who are still traumatized by their school experience like me? [00:23:17] You have to face your fears - I know how scary facing a fear is, but it's not just that I believe, Karen, because that is too weak of a word, I know for a fact that if you can find it within you to face a fear, whatever that fear might be then it will no longer hold you hostage. [00:23:42] That was my defining [00:23:46] purpose for attending that reunion. I did not want to be held hostage anymore by these kids. I wanted to see them through a different prism; the prism of a successful adult who had built a meaningful life. and could now look at them and say to herself, they were wrong. It was helpful. I mean, it was. I divide my life into two time zones. My life before my 20th reunion and my life after. Literally.
Karen Ortman [00:24:30] And the reunion that you just spoke of was your 20th?
Jodee Blanco Yes, 20th high school reunion. [00:24:37] I graduated in 82, so it was October 5th 2002 and I was 38.
Karen Ortman [00:24:47] What happened when you walked into the reunion?
Jodee Blanco [00:24:54] I realized that [00:24:57] the people who I thought would look terrible that I thought would have aged looked good and the people who I thought would look good looked terrible. [00:25:08] I remember feeling terrified and exhilarated at the same time [00:25:16] almost as if one might feel if they'd never skydive before and they were standing at the edge of the open door on the plane ready to launch. That's what it felt like.
Karen Ortman Did you feel like you belonged?
Jodee Blanco [00:25:29] No. And I didn't feel like I belonged. [00:25:35] And I wanted to, so I just started working the room and everybody came up to me and they were all really friendly. The kids who tormented me, my elite tormentors, were hugging me and I couldn't believe it. That's when I realized the bully never remembers, the outcast never forgets. And when they asked me what I was doing, and here's the interesting part, I had just finished writing Please Stop Laughing at Me. I had just finished the last chapter two weeks before the reunion and it was a very different last chapter. I was actually basing it on the grammar school reunion because I hadn't had my high school reunion yet and that night was so revolutionary and so seismically [00:26:22] impactful. That I mean some of the bullies actually apologized to me, and when I told them about the book, instead of being resentful, which is what I thought they would be -I was terrified - they said, Jodi, how can we help you promote it? What can we do to help you? Cause they all parents now so they saw things much differently. So somehow all these did remember. Some of them did.
[00:26:50] I had to remind them, some of them were ashamed. Some of them did. Some of them needed to be reminded.
Karen Ortman [00:26:55] I still think your statement made earlier, bullies never remember. Victims never forget is a profound statement, because I think that that's probably more true than not.
Jodee Blanco [00:27:13] Yes. It’s especially true, here's the thing about bullying, and I really do understand it is that when these kids were doing these things to me, they really didn't realize [00:27:29] the degree of cruelty that they were engaging in. They say they genuinely didn't understand that because their parents didn't compassionatize them. Compassion is something you’re not necessarily born with? You're born with the capacity for it but your home life can either cultivate or crush that capacity. So a lot of these kids, their capacity for compassion was crushed before it was ever cultivated. And that's what you see. It's interesting because in my work now schools and when I do professional development, I tell principals and superintendents and teachers, I tell them bullying on its surface seems like a targeted act of hatred but that is an illusion. It is illusory. Bullying is a child in pain acting out in a cry for help and unless we address those cries with compassionate, enlightened, restorative forms of discipline those cries will turn into screams. When that happens, watch out, because that is the impetus for tragedy in our schools.
Karen Ortman [00:28:45] There are so many bullies, though. So how do you dissect the bullier? [00:28:55] And identify what pain they are suffering. If [00:29:03] schools aren’t involved, parents aren't involved or they're unaware. How do you affect these students who are bullying others? [00:29:21] If you say that they are in pain or there's some other sort of catalyst for their treatment of others,
Jodee Blanco I'm probably the leading expert in the field on that question. [00:29:35] First of all, when I go into schools, that traditional punishment won't work. [00:29:41] Not exclusively, because it only makes an angry child angrier and an insensitive, insensitive child more insensitive. [00:29:49] And you need compassionate forms of discipline that help less sensitive students access their empathy and develop it like a muscle. [00:29:58] And schools that resist that pay the price,
Karen Ortman Given an example of what you do or what schools should do to strengthen that muscle.
Jodee Blanco [00:30:10] Let me give you a good one and let me attach it to a case, an actual case so that it makes sense. I was at a school and I was doing my program. Now, bear in mind that my entire program is extremely - it's emotional, it's intense. It's the human side. So I get up on stage or I get up in a gym and they'll be like a thousand kids in a gym [00:30:30] and I actually relive my past with them. It's almost like a sense memory. So it's not just interactive, it's immersive. At the end of my talk I'll always have kids come to me for crisis intervention. The vast majority of them are victims of bullies wanting affirmation or comfort but sometimes I'll get a group of elite tormentors who never knew their behavior was cruel until they heard me speak and they wanted my help making amends to their victims. I was at this one school, this is quite a few years ago, and this girl came up to me and I thought she was a victim and she was crying and I hugged her and, you know, she said that she wanted to talk to me and I said, I know what it's like to be bullied. She says [00:31:30] I'm not bullied [00:31:35] I get in trouble all the time for bullying, she was very defensive but sobbing and so I did what I teach schools to do, I engage my most powerful weapon – curiosity. Goals have to be curious because the more you find out about the bully’s background the more compassion you will feel. The more compassion you feel for the bully, the more effectively you will be able to navigate a plan of action forward. So I engaged curiosity and it turns out that her stepfather was sexually abusing her and threatening her. And so she was [00:32:20] creating a lot of click drama because she felt no control at home. The only control she felt was when members of her click would do what she wanted them to do.
Karen Ortman What is click drama?
Jodee Blanco Click drama is when you have a click, you know what a click is like a friend group, a click. And normally with a click, like a popular click you'll have someone who's sort of the leader of that click and everybody will want to please that leader. The elite tormentor, who kind of is the influencer of the click. So she was the elite tormentor of her click and she was convincing other members of her click to exclude people, to make fun of them, too just bully. [00:33:11] And once I got to the bottom of why she was in so much pain I pulled in the counselor because I'm not a therapist. So I pulled in the counselor, I pulled in the school psychologist. It was obvious that she felt no control at home so all of her anger and fear and control was then acted out at school within her click.
Karen Ortman [00:33:37] So fair to say that someone who is bullying has something going on elsewhere?
Jodee Blanco [00:33:45] Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, bully or the elite tormentor is a kid in pain, acting out in a cry for help. Now, that is almost always what it is. I'm not saying we should let the bullies get by with their behavior. I'm not saying that there should be no consequences. What I am saying is that they need to be restorative. For example, what I do, what I teach schools and I do this successfully in hundreds of schools - this is not just pulling it out of the hat, OK, I mean, I have a 40-page curriculum. I've written mounds of white papers on disciplinary practices. So what I teach schools is that, like when you have detention, instead of letting kids sit and serve detention and tell them to do homework, which they're only going to pretend to do - what they're really doing is plotting their revenge in detention - [00:34:40] allocate half of that detention time for kids to do something that will make a difference in the lives of others. [00:34:49] So let's see of a group of kids in a detention challenge them to pick a charity that they care about or a cause they care about and then come up with a way to make a difference for that cause. So let's say they decide they love animals, together come up with a way that you can create an awareness campaign to raise money or to increase animal adoption in your community. Maybe you do posters and you put them up all over the community. And then, the most important part is that you raised money for an animal shelter. But then when you've concluded the task and you've seen it through then the school needs to contact the manager of an animal shelter or a contact there so that person can say to those students, thank you for what you did, this is the effect that it had. Traditional punishment only teaches kids the consequences of doing the wrong thing. It doesn't teach them the joys of doing the right thing. Another example, let's say that you have a kid. Here's the example I give. Let's say that you have a kid, a 13-year-old boy and he's rude to his grandparents and you're a parent. So you say to him, if you're not more respectful to your grandparents, I'm taking away your iPhone. The next day he's mowing their lawn and watching PBS with them. He's not doing that because he genuinely gives a hoot about his grandparents, he's doing it because he wants his iPhone back. What is that traditional method of punishment taught the child that his relationship with his living, breathing grandparents is of the same value as his relationship to his device? Then we wonder why we have a world full of materialistic, cold, calculating people because we're setting that president with traditional punishment. A far better approach would be to say to that kid, hand them a notebook and a pen and say, for the next five days you're going to perform one unexpected act of kindness for a different person each day and immediately upon completion of each act you're going to write down what it was, how the person responded, how that response made you feel inside. Then you're going to hand your notebook to that person who will sign and date their entry and give his cell phone number - and recipients under the age of 18, parental signature and phone number required. Then you tell the child, I'm going to call and verify your follow up [00:37:12] and if I find out that you've lied. Then this will be the result. [00:37:18] If he follows through he gets exposed to what it feels like to make someone else feel good instead of bad; to lift someone up instead of knocked him down. If he doesn't follow through, then you would engage a more traditional format towards discipline.
Karen Ortman [00:37:33] So I've done so we've done some talking about bullying in elementary school and high school. Do you see it occurring at the college level?
Jodee Blanco [00:37:47] Absolutely. In fact, I have a program for universities that I call the desperate freshman and I see it happening all the time. This is the most typical dynamic, you have an incoming group of freshmen, right? Particularly the ones who are moving into a dorm. That's really scary cause then with these people 24/7. Right. So you have you have the most vulnerable students. There are multiple categories of desperate freshmen but the most vulnerable categories is the kids coming from high school who was really popular in high school and is terrified and anxious because they want that same popularity in college. They're vulnerable because anyone who's desperate and afraid is vulnerable. Conversely, you have the outcast, which was what I was, the ancient child who's coming and didn't have any friends in the high school was completely an outcast. They're desperate to be accepted in college and to know what it's like to have fun and hang out because they know that if the kids at college don't accept them, this is their last chance to know what it feels like to be normal. And so you have that dual dynamic entering into dorms all around the world. Understanding how to mitigate that training, the RA's who live in the dorms; training them to recognize and observe the signs and how to interface and work with these kids and mitigate their desperation, instituting programs in the dorms and in the undergrad system so that these kids have outlets and social outlets and ways to sort of ease them into the social waters of college. There are all kinds of mitigating programs that can be helpful in facilitating a comfortable transition for the desperate freshman. And that's something that I do. [00:39:46] I do that all the time.
Karen Ortman [00:39:49] What advice would you give your younger self? Now, not only as an expert on this subject of bullying, but as a survivor of peer bullying.
Jodee Blanco [00:40:04] The advice I would give - I wouldn't change anything about my childhood, so I wouldn't give myself any advice that would change something, because if I changed anything, everything could have changed. And I wouldn't have given up what I did with my pain for anything because I turned my pain into purpose, right. I'm proud of that. And I encourage other people to turn their pain into purpose no matter what their pain is. If they were sexually assaulted, if they were bankrupted, if they were abused by their parents, whatever form the abuse took, turn it into purpose and find a way to help others heal and survive. Then when you look back on your childhood instead of resenting it you'll see it as what defined your reason now to be here. So my advice to my younger self would be [00:40:54] patience, faith and trust. [00:40:59] This is happening for a very specific reason; you are here for a purpose. You will see that purpose. In the meantime - patience, faith, trust.
Karen Ortman [00:41:12] I like it, too. I really do. You have so much to offer and [00:41:22] such an expertize on the subject, not only as somebody who has been studying this in adulthood but experienced it in life and that's really the most valuable sort of teacher in my opinion. I'm so grateful that you came on You Matter to talk to us. So, as painful as your experiences were - I was going to ask you if you believe that it serves you in any constructive way as an adult, but you already answered that.
Jodee Blanco [00:41:56] Oh, yeah.. [00:41:58] You know, it's funny, I loved that you called me because if there's anything I can ever do for NYU, I would do it; whether it's to speak there or bring my anti-bullying program there or do something for the Alumni Association. When I tell you New York University did save my life. I was suicidal all through high school and middle school and [00:42:27] had I not done what I did with those kids in that dorm, had I not had the courage to be honest with them; I don't know what would have happened. How they responded was extraordinary. And the education I got at NYU was incredible. I mean, I had an amazing career because of NYU and so whoever is listening to this to this podcast, if you're an undergrad, a graduate student, a professor, whatever capacity your spirit serves that school, be aware of the kids who are afraid. Be aware of the professors who are afraid that they will be accepted by their colleagues. Fear of rejection, fear of exclusion; that kind of fear people can mask it. Look beneath the mask and do for someone else at NYU what those kids in the dorm did for me and what my professors did for me. If I can motivate anyone to do that, I feel like in some small way I'm paying my alma mater back.
Karen Ortman [00:43:38] I think that's beautiful. Thank you for that. Is there anything else you would like to add that I've not already asked?
Jodee Blanco [00:43:46] You're sweet. You're a wonderful interviewer, by the way. I think probably because you were a detective. Right? You are really. You ask really good questions. You should be a journalist full time. You're very kind. [00:43:58] I mean, what I'd like to add is if anyone ever needs me or you just have a question, you know, let them at have my website, JodeeBlanco.com with two E's and please feel free to come to me. I'm very reachable and very accessible. And if I see NYU in the headline, believe me, I will read that before any other e-mail.
Karen Ortman [00:44:24] That's fantastic. Your love for NYU is a beautiful thing.
Jodee Blanco [00:44:29] You wouldn't think that a university that big in the middle of that big city could be nurturing, but it is. So please let everyone know there [00:44:39] that if you need anything anti-bullying related or just an ear, whatever you need, I am here. I'm considered the mother of the anti-bullying movement or certainly a pioneer of the movement [00:44:53] and if there's anything I can do for NYU, boy, I owe that school.
Karen Ortman [00:44:59] Well, thank you very much. [00:45:00] Thanks to my guest, Jodee and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter. If any information presented today was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999. [00:45:18] Also, the Department of Public Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share like and subscribe to You Matter on Apple podcasts, Google Play, Tune In or Spotify.