Doesn’t Anyone Remember the Golden Rule?

By Colene Gibson

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On the Day of Silence, a student wore this sign around school. Photo compliments of Josh Veliciu.

Yes, I’m pretty sure it started somewhere back in kindergarten when we were crying because we were excluded or because someone said something mean.  We would be upset or perhaps we made someone else upset, so our parents would remind us to “treat people the way you want to be treated.”  My question is: why hasn’t that lesson been carried to high school? And, better yet, at the times in our lives when we are given responsibility and freedom, why are we choosing now to skip the part of thinking about how our actions will affect other people?

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that someone needs to stand up and say that people need to start treating each other a little better with a lot more respect.  Niles West is a very diverse school with many different religions, cultures, ethnicities, and beliefs.  I don’t think that at a time when we are at a pretty crucial time in their lives, in terms of deciding what kind of person to become for the rest of their lives, that we should chose ignorance and bigotry.  It’s a shame to see that when Niles West offers so many opportunities, so many questions to be asked, and so many lessons to be learned that people would rather repetitively state their own beliefs and never listen to the other side.

I think what really made me realize some of this is what happened on the Day of Silence, particularly on Facebook.  A picture of senior Josh Veliciu wearing a sign stating, “Homosexuality is wrong,” was posted on Facebook and garnered more than 220 comments by Sunday night, some of which supported Veliciu and commended his “good job” along with others that called his actions and the reasons behind them into question.  The even more disturbing part?  It also had more than 55 likes as well.

Now, let me pause for just a second here to point out that I’m not writing this column to spark a debate about whether homosexuality is right vs. wrong or a lifestyle choice vs. how someone is born.  The problem that I had with this is that, to me, it looked an awful lot like bullying, yet people were standing behind his actions.

So, I sat down and talked with Josh Veliciu about why he made and wore that sign.  He made it very clear at the beginning of the interview that he wanted to clarify something.  “I’d like to first put this out that I do not hate homosexuals,” said Veliciu.  “I just want the school to know that I did not do it in any form of hazing or anything like that.”

Then, he explained what he did on the Day of Silence.

“I came to school wearing a sign that was on my chest that said, ‘homosexuality is wrong,'” said Veliciu.  “I was questioned by my first period teacher as into why I was wearing the sign, so she took me into the hall and asked me why I was wearing it.  I told her that just as the students have the right to participate something in that they believe in, I have the right to say what I believe in and what I think is right. And I know that their whole thing is against the bullying, but I was addressing a whole different issue.  While I was talking, a security guard came by and asked my teacher if there was a problem and my teacher was like ‘yeah, just have the deans approve of this first and see if it’s okay for him to wear,’ which I was a bit confused on.  So, I was taken down and my dean wasn’t there so the Dean’s Office said to take him to the principal to see if he was there; however, Mr. Osburn was not in his office, so I spoke to Mr. Griffin instead, the assistant principal.  We went over and we discussed that I have the right to freedom of speech and a right to freedom of religion and I believe that it was okay to be practiced in school.  What he didn’t find okay with my sign was that it was more of a distraction to school so he found it that me wearing the sign would distract the other students daily routine at school, and he went on in saying that he did ask me to take it off and I told him that I would take it off and handed it to him, but I told him that the Day of Silence can be in the same manner of distractions to students like myself.”

He admitted to making another sign with the same statement later in the day, which is the one the picture was taken of.

“To me, I don’t think that was in a form to judge anyone or to bully them in any manner, so I don’t feel that I did anything wrong in that manner.  I believe it’s the Biblical truth,” said Veliciu.  “I believe the GSA would take it in the form of bullying, so I went ahead and did it anyways. They would take it as a form of bullying. I don’t think it’s a form of bullying. I think that I was…putting out my own personal belief and opinion.”

As an editor-in-chief of a student publication, the concept of freedom of speech is hardly lost on me.  I understand that everyone has the right to voice their opinions (which is why I’m writing this), but I think that we all need to take a second to stop and think about what we’re saying and what the effects of our actions could be.  What we do affects other people, and regardless if we face repercussions from the administration or not, these actions affect the people around us.  To put it simply, we need to be more concious of our words and our actions; we need to “filter” what we’re saying and doing.

No one should feel like they’re going to be attacked or made fun of or excluded when they come to school.  The real world is tough enough, there’s no need for us to make each others’ lives more difficult than they might already be.

So, I went to talk to Dr. Kim Landini, our school psychologist, to see what she had to say about how these types of actions can affect the students and the climate of Niles West.

“I’d have to say, first-hand experience hearing these kids in [a group here at West], all of these types of things affect them very deeply.  Kids who have different identity issues are at higher risk for drop out or suicide,” said Landini.”I think any kinds of incidence of, well, this is just blatant bullying…These kinds of things certainly don’t help the climate of a building, but what does help is the kids who can make a committment to standing out against such hatred.”

I think that what Landini said was really important because bullying has become such a common aspect of high school nowadays that sometimes we don’t even realize that we’re doing it or that we’re witnessing it.  Everyone needs to be a little bit more aware of what they’re doing and how it affects other people.  Our actions do have consequences, even if they aren’t just repercussions against ourselves.

Landini proposed that students should open their eyes to other people’s perspective, and at a school as diverse as West.  I agree; I personally can’t see any reason why we shouldn’t.

“I think, being a psychologist, I believe that kids are good,” she said.  “I do not really believe that they are intending to hurt other people.  I think that if they really knew that they were that they wouldn’t, and that’s just a fundamental basis of what I believe.  I think kids can get caught up in the moment, just get caught up in a laugh or attention, wanting to appear cool in some respect, not realizing that what they’re doing is hurtful and damaging.  The advice I would have for him [Veliciu] is maybe some community service hours, you know, open one’s eyes to what maybe they don’t see in sometimes a very sheltered life.  Walk in their mocasins, you know?  I think everyone can think of a moment in their life where they felt put down or hurt in some way.  If they can get in touch with that, and [they can] realize that’s what they’re doing to other people.”

This kind of action would make West a much better place for every one.  I may be graduating in less than a month, but I hate to think that the place I’m leaving behind is a type where students are treating each other like this.  West shouldn’t be a place where students can be bullied and marginalized.  Freedom of Speech is great, but sometimes the way it’s used isn’t.

Principal Kaine Osburn agreed. He stated in an email, “It is wrong in a school setting. That is exclusionary language and action that is meant to marginalize members of our Niles West community. While I disagree with the sentiments on the placard [what Veliciu wore] in all circumstances, free speech is a right all people have, but schools are communities that must foster inclusion if learning and growth are to take place.”

As I scrolled through the comments that were posted underneath Veliciu’s photo, there were a few that stood out to me.  There were students trying to stand up to the fact that wearing a sign, while Veliciu had the right to do so, wasn’t really right.  They were the students that I associate with what Landini spoke to me about as the “upstanders” who stand up for those who are being bullied.  They faced a lot of name-calling and insults because they stood up for those being bullied, but, nonetheless, they stood their ground and tried to bring some perspective and reason into the argument.

Senior Benjamin Bard brought up that Freedom of Speech doesn’t translate to judging or dictating other people’s lives.

“Then how are you going to judge them and say what theyre doing is wrong, you may have freedom of speech but that doesnt mean youre right when you tell other people its wrong,” Bard wrote in a Facebook comment.

Niles West alumni Ned McElfresh‘s comment went along with Bard’s and also mentioned that everyone really needs to think about their words before they say, or write, them.

“Think about your words before you parade around the school. I took the time to look through this entire thread and I witnessed the perpetual spewing of ignorance hidden behind telling people that they don’t understand, or, they can’t relate, they’re not christian. No. That is not the case. The case is that you don’t understand the words you’re using, nor do you understand why you believe that homosexuality is wrong. If you did, you would be a hardcore dude, that thinks damn near everything that is fun, is also wrong.The scriptures are not the writings of Jesus. The new testament was composed by people who never met jesus. Sadly, Jesus didn’t write much down, but if he did, I imagine he would write to love everyone like you love yourself. But on this thread, all I see are a bunch of people too blind from loving themselves and their own ways to open their eyes and love others, regardless of their race, ideology, or sexual status. Also, by saying something is wrong, means your passing judgement, making it a sin because judgements can lead to good deeds, or sins. Unless there is a middle ground which i’m unaware of. But i digress, by passing judgement, you are putting yourself on god’s level, and being one of god’s followers, i don’t think he would petty himself and divulge a portion of his time to you, but he would sentence you straight to hell for trying to match him, andmaking yourself an idol. Think before you speak, and stop vomiting ignorance veiled by god’s teaching because Jesus preached kindness, and your statement is not kind at all,” said McElfresh in a Facebook comment.

Senior Zeia Amanoel also commented that the blind hatred, no matter what someone’s beliefs are, is unnecessary.

“Jesus preached love Thee, not hate. I agree with some of what Josh says, in a sense that he has a right to say whatever he wants and if he thinks that he can go right ahead. What I disagree with is the blind hate to those people some people on this status have attributed to them. I can care less about gay people, but I wouldn’t stop being friends with someone or not talk to them because they were gay.  Assuming everyone here is of Christian faith, we are all Gods children. All made in his image. Anyone tossing out blind hate at people should have a look at what they stand for exactly. It’s no better,” said Amanoel in a Facebook comment.

Senior Bobby Yarmahmoudi posted a comment that really called out Veliciu’s reasons behind his sign and provoked a lot of comments and thoughts as to why this action took place.

“Let’s make people spew their ideas, realize how irrational they are, then change. It’s not my style to back away from what has no rational basis. Btw, your sign should’ve written “Homosexuality makes me uncomfortable” not “Homosexuality is wrong”. Right and wrong are subjective labels that people use to label things that make comfortable or uncomfortable. If homosexuality makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself: WHY? Is it because you are insecure of you’re sexuality? Or you are too afraid to go against your religion, your family, or culture? Figure it out, because being against someone based on biology is stupid, and whether you or your immediate friends or family change or not doesn’t matter, humanity will realize this stupidity and grow, just like with slavery, nationalism, racism, etc. My motto to all you guys is: get your [explective deleted] together,” said  Yarmahmoudi in a Facebook comment.

*All students gave permission to publish their comments from Facebook, and the comments were left unedited.