Getting Tough on Bullying: Dean of Theology Brings Expertise to Troubling Societal Issue
By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
Like many people, GCU’s dean of theology, Dr. Steven Gerali, was shocked and appalled when a video of junior high students bullying a 68-year-old woman on a school bus in Greece, N.Y., surfaced on the Internet this summer.
The students maliciously taunted and degraded school bus monitor Karen Klein with a stream of insults, profanities and threats. At one point, they demanded to know her address so they could steal from her and deface her property. One boy, ridiculing Klein about her weight, said that if he stabbed her with a knife, hamburgers would slide out of her stomach.
And, in what may have been the most stinging remark, one of the boys said, “You don’t have a family because they all killed themselves because they didn’t want to be near you.”
Klein’s son committed suicide about 10 years ago.
“It was an overt display of unfiltered, unrestrained, boundary-less kids,” said Gerali, who has been sought out in radio interviews during recent months as an expert on the subject of bullying. The interviews were aired on nearly 600 stations and reached roughly 2.5 million listeners.
“There is a lot we can learn from an incident like that,” Gerali added. “What I hope is that parents and people who work with kids become very aware that online social networks are unfiltered and they allow kids to practice some things that can translate to real time.”
Gerali, who came to GCU in January of 2012 as dean of what was then the College of Christian Studies, has published several books, including “The Struggle” (2001), “How to Stay Christian in High School” (2004), “Teenage Guys: Exploring Issues that Teenage Guys Face and the Strategies to Help Them” (2006) and what he called his pride and joy: “The Crest: Book 1 in the Mentor Chronicles” (2011).
In 2009-10, he also published a series of six books geared toward parents and youth workers titled “What Do I Do When Teenagers …” Each hits on a critical issue facing teens, including bullying. That book delves into gender differences in bullying, warning signs, prevention strategies and how to help disordered teens, among other things.
Bullying has been around forever but reached new heights after the shooting at Columbine (Colo.) High School in 1999 in which two students who had complained of being bullied lashed out, killing 12 students and one teacher while injuring 21 others before committing suicide.
“A lot of times these kids feel backed into a corner and they feel terrorized and they really are threatened to the point of death,” Gerali said. “They really think they are going to die, so the only way out is to come out fighting or to take their lives, or both.
“That’s what started a lot of this. I started digging in and researching it, and it became more apparent that bullying was reaching new heights and taking on new forms.”
Bullying, Gerali said, is more than the pushing, shoving, name-calling, steal-your-lunch-money kinds of things that many people have endured. “We’re now talking about kids who terrorize other kids.”
And the Internet has opened up even greater opportunities for bullying, allowing kids to question someone’s sexuality or make accusations on social media outlets that live in cyberspace forever.
“For a teenager who is just developing an identity, things like that are just deadly,” Gerali said.
“My passion has always been for kids who are hurting or feel marginalized. I really believe that people who work in Christian ministry with kids need to stand as advocates for them. God’s Word says that He gives us our ministry of reconciliation. If we don’t bring reconciliation into the lives of these kids, their families and our society, then nobody is going to do it.”