By Ashley Mackin
Gizelle Studevent, 22, a graduate of The Bishop’s School in La Jolla and Penn State University, is taking a tough stance against bullying in her new book, “Bridges.”
It touches on her school experiences as the subject of bullying and provides challenging advice to adults who discover that a child is being bullied.
In an interview with La Jolla Light, Studevent said people were always telling her she should write a book about her story, but she never felt compelled. “Everyone has a story to tell, but I’m not an author,” she said.
Then she heard about a student named Phoebe Prince, who came from Ireland to go to school in Boston. Prince committed suicide in January 2010 because she couldn’t handle the bullying she was experiencing. “I knew I had a responsibility to share my story,” Studevent said. “(Phoebe’s story) pushed me to write the book.”
“Bridges” was published on May 14 and chronicles the bullying incidents Studevent experienced before transferring to Bishop’s. It includes letters to parents, teachers, coaches, men, women and her generation as a whole.
Declining to name the school at which she was horribly harassed, Studevent said she endured the demeaning treatment for years. It started with letters left in her gym bag and backpack addressed to “senorita” (Studevent is half Mexican), which talked about her racial background and implied that her father and her basketball coach “had something going on.” Other letters sent to her home said she would never get into college and questioned why she was even applying.
The harassment escalated when someone (who Studevent later found out was her teammate) tried to plant drugs on her when the school was cracking down on teen drug use. Studevent said the teammate was trying to make sure she was caught with drugs, and even hired a dealer to plant them.
The pinnacle of disgust arrived when her father was informed that someone had linked his daughter’s name to a pornography site on which the name “Gizelle Studevent” was listed as the participant.
Studevent said the school administration’s ineffective handling of the situation really opened her eyes and worked to give her book its crucial direction: How adults can (and must) help.
“When the administration found out about the first letter, they acted as if they were going to find out who did it,” she said. However, they later developed an attitude of “this will blow over,” she said, which left her to feel they had swept it under the rug.
“(Adults) were too scared to do anything and that is a problem,” she said. “If the adults the kids confide in either can’t or won’t stand up for them, what are the kids supposed to do?”
She said teachers, parents and coaches need to be willing to intercede on behalf of children who come to them with a problem — no matter how uncomfortable that problem might be.
“Those in authority have a responsibility to stand up for these kids; they need you, they look to you to help them solve their problems. When parents and teachers are willing to listen and take action, it’s easier to tell kids in tough situations to go to someone they trust,” she said.
When Studevent transferred to The Bishop’s School, she said she found supportive adults. “The teachers were welcoming and perfect,” she said.
With some financial aid provided by Bishop’s, Studevent attended the school and thrived. She went on to attend Penn State, where she won multiple community, athletic and academic awards, and formed Penn State Athletes Take Action (PSATA).
Through PSATA, student athletes come together to go to a local school and teach kids different ways to talk to each other. Via interactive exercises, they demonstrate how positive words can make children feel good and how negative words and actions can leave a hurtful lasting impression.
Studevent advised others who want to implement similar programs to reach out to universities because they have the athletes, as well as professors and students, with knowledge of how to best talk to children.
Through her own painful experiences, writing the book and working with children as an adult, Studevent said one lesson became clear.
“Teachers need to stand up for kids,” she said. “Do more for your children ... go above and beyond. Teachers ask us to do that; well they should be doing the same for their students. You have these kids in your hands for a short while, so go above and beyond, and teach them life lessons ... and parents, listen to your kids.”