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Mean girls: High-schoolers use homecoming contests to bully

September 30, 2012|By Matt Pearce

Some homecoming queens will cherish that memory forever. Others are finding that it's just a symbol of their unpopularity, yet another opportunity to be bullied. 

In West Branch, Mich., the student body of Ogemaw Heights High School nominated 16-year-old Whitney Kropp to the homecoming court — as a gag. "I thought I wasn't worthy," Whitney told The Detroit News, and it turns out she wasn’t. "I was this big old joke." Other students pointed at her in the hallway and laughed, she said. The boy selected with her dropped out, apparently embarrassed.

In North Carolina, Lincolnton High School freshman Zharia Link, 16, also asked “Why me?” according to the Charlotte Observer. She, too,  saw her male co-representative drop out when it turned out they were victims of the same prank.

And in Pacific, Mo., Baillie Tanner's  nomination to the homecoming court for the Meramec Valley High School District drew her parents’ suspicion. This didn’t feel like the laudatory nominations given to learning disabilities at other schools, they said; this felt malevolent. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, they kept Baillie, 15, home for a couple days to keep her safe. But some students said bullying hadn’t been their intent.

Maybe this isn't so new.

“When I was in high school,” Erin Gloria Ryan writes at Jezebel, “I was voted homecoming queen and reading stories like this made me so paranoid that it was a 'Carrie'-style joke that I couldn't be happy about it until after the dance was over and I'd spent the whole time expecting to have blood poured on my head.

“Kids are awful,” she adds. “Even when they're not being awful.”

But if the recent homecoming antics have demonstrated anything beyond coordinated maliciousness, it’s that bullying, which typically relies on silence and complacency to continue, doesn’t stand up to sunlight. By using a highly visible platform to ridicule  unpopular students, bullies managed to catch the eyes of local parents, teachers and community members -- who rallied to  victims’ aid.

West Branch townspeople wore orange T-shirts — Whitney Kropp’s favorite color — to her coronation, and businesses around town donated their services to take care of her homecoming outfit.

“The kids that are bullying, do not let them bring you down,” Whitney told the Associated Press. “Stand up for what you believe in, and go with your heart and go with your gut. That's what I did, and look at me now. I'm just as happy as can be.”

A similar thing happened to Zharia Link. “It was a big joke to them, but not a joke to me,” Zharia told the Charlotte Observer. “I told myself: They're not going to win. I'm going through with this. To me, it was an honor. I'd never done anything like this before.”

In Missouri, Meramec Valley School District administrators told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that several students would be punished for bullying.

But April Aubuchon, who helped Baillie choose an outfit and do her hair for the homecoming parade, told the Post-Dispatch she worried that the town’s image had been tarnished unfairly. "You can’t stereotype a town by what a few people have been accused of,” she said.

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