Giving Teens a Voice

Arizona Daily Star

Friday, 3 December 1999
By Hipolito R. Corella and Sarah Garrecht Gassen
The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, AZ

Students offer ideas for halting school violence

In person and through the Internet, students revealed their experiences, fears and ideas about school violence yesterday.

While students at Cholla High Magnet School interacted anonymously through an ``electronic meeting,'' students from across the state took part in a forum in Scottsdale with state attorneys general and an MTV VJ.

The National Association of Attorneys General brought more than 100 high school students and 45 of the nation's 50 attorneys general together in a moderated discussion about school violence.

One of the the students picked up a microphone and confidently made an admission that would terrify almost anyone who has attended high school.

``I'm not popular, I'm more of what you'd call a reject,'' Crystal Frisby declared in a loud voice that belied her self-imposed title.

The senior at International Studies Academy in Phoenix went on to tell the audience that being an outsider at her former high school led to torment from some classmates.

The harassment culminated in a vicious attack in April 1998. It started with girls on a school bus throwing things at her and ended with a trip to the hospital when two of them beat her so badly she needed stitches on her face.

The two girls were convicted of aggravated assault and will soon be off probation, Frisby said.

Her mother, Esther, who sat next to the teen at the conference, told the audience that she feels guilty for not doing more to put a stop to the harassment her daughter complained of.  The program was a collaboration between Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano's office, the national association and MTV, which continues its yearlong campaign to reduce violence through its program called ``Fight For Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Violence.''

MTV personality Ananda Lewis told the teens to take pride in who they are, to not belittle their peers with mean-spirited criticism and to take control of the way they allow themselves to be treated.

Napolitano said in an interview before yesterday's discussion that the dialogue will help policy-makers pursue legislation and programs that can effectively deal with and prevent violence.

Napolitano said too many people in authority are out of touch with experiences and social concerns faced by a generation grappling with new issues brought on by things such as media influences, the Internet and on-campus shooting rampages.

Students at Cholla High School yesterday used the Internet in the hopes that its anonymity might provide more frank and more plentiful comments than a face-to-face gathering.

The students brainstormed causes of school violence and ways to address them with the help of Brice F. Marsh, a senior computer scientist and electronic meeting specialist with Computer Sciences Corporation. He usually works at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Marsh travels the country holding ``teen think tanks''; the results are then posted on the Internet at

Yesterday one class decided that gangs and rejection by peers were leading causes of violence at school. The second class attributed violence to depression and rumors.

Both classes cited racism as a top reason. Students perused a long list of possible causes, such as lack of self-discipline and love from family, and voted for the top three. They then could make comments or suggestions, which were projected onto two large screens.

Comments ranged from urging everyone to stop spreading rumors and confronting problems directly to encouraging parents to take an active role in their teen-agers' lives by teaching them to respect all people and talking about more than schoolwork.

``Parents don't help their kids grow up,'' was one comment.

Another read, ``We need to leave what was once done, to cause slavery or judgment by the way people live, behind. That is so old. What we need to realize is that nowadays we've got to get along with each other and just keep on going on to the future.''

The anonymity helps students contribute, said teacher Debra Cunningham. It also eliminates some classroom dynamics, such as girls not participating and male students dominating the discussion.

'`It levels the playing field in terms of race and gender,'' she said, adding that her research has found that ideas and solutions flow faster online than during a verbal discussion.

Marsh said he's found that the process can be a first step for some kids.

``They have something to say, but they've never felt able to speak up,'' he said. ``But then they might be more likely to defend their idea during a discussion.''

Noel Morales, 15, agreed. ``I'd rather be anonymous,'' he said. ``You don't get ridiculed.''