By: Sloane M. Perron, Manager of Marketing Communications
Dr. Kevin Dowd is on a mission to bring awareness to the epidemic of bullying and to save the lives of children who feel like there is no way out from the repeated violence and mental health toll that bullying brings.
Dowd first started teaching as an adjunct theology professor at Anna Maria College nine years ago, but his focus on bullying prevention first began when he was a student at Boston College. Dowd’s Catholic Social Teaching professor assigned an open topic paper to his class and Dowd turned towards current events for inspiration. At the time President Obama was addressing the bullying epidemic which led to 37 youths dying by suicide as a result of bullying that year. It was then that Dowd began looking into the Catholic Church’s approach to dealing with the toll of bullying.
“I remember President Obama speaking and saying this is not normal, bullying is not a normal part of growing up. And he was absolutely right, and nobody should dismiss it as just a part of growing up, and the having to ‘get over it’ attitude is nonsense. So, I wanted to see if the church had anything to say. Here we are a church that considers itself pro-life, a church committed to social justice, and human dignity. So, I wrote my paper about this, and sadly found out the church didn’t have a lot to say.” said Dowd.
It was then that Dowd realized that he could fill this void and teach youths and parents about the dangers of bullying while reinforcing the importance of human dignity through Scripture. “I felt like I could be the very thing that was lacking, I could at least be one of the voices in the Church that was addressing this issue,” he said.
Dowd’s class paper about bullying, “What has Columbine to do with Jerusalem?”, was eventually published into a peer-reviewed journal. Soon after he was invited to public speaking engagements nationwide where he spoke about bullying prevention and presented to youths. His book, Teaching Kids to Respect Others: Reflections, Activities & Prayers on Bullying and Prejudice which was published in 2018 furthered helped spread the message that bullying is not only a form of violence, but it is an act that goes against the Church’s value system.
“The main way is through Genesis 1:27, where in this wonderful creation story we hear that God created human beings in God’s own image and likeness, male and female. That’s the foundation of Catholic Social Teaching, this dignity that every person is an icon of God in a sense, and so any violence done to the human person is intolerable,” Dowd explained, “We need to address it. The thing with bullying is to recognize, and to help people to recognize, that we’re not just talking about a schoolyard scuffle, it’s not just kids being kids. Bullying is a very specific type of violence, and it does damage to the human person and therefore, to human dignity.”
According to Dowd, the research shows that 1 in 5 children report being bullied, meanwhile out of those bullied, only 1 in 5 actually speak up. Typically, those who do speak out will only attempt to ask for help once. This means that if a child reaches out to a trusted teacher or adult for help, and they are not believed, then they are far less likely to reach out again, which only adds to the feeling of being trapped and having no way out of the abuse.
Dowd’s anti-bullying presentations are not just unique in the fact that they come from a theological perspective, but he also targets multiple layers of people in his message. He speaks to the victims of bullying, as well as their parents, bystanders, and even the bullies themselves.
“The number one thing is to speak up to find somebody they trust and talk to them to get some help. And I always say to students, if they don’t believe you, if they don’t get you help, if they don’t listen to you, then go to somebody else and speak up until somebody takes you seriously. That’s the number one piece of advice I can give,” Dowd said about giving bullied students advice.
Through his trainings, Dowd hopes to empower the victim and empower bystanders to act and intervene when needed. Ultimately, Dowd’s goal is to reduce the number of youths dying by suicide, by showing them that they are not alone, and that there are ways out of their situations.
Dowd saw the impact of his own anti-bullying work when he returned to a parish that he had spoken at a year prior, “I received some feedback from students who told me, ‘You literally saved somebody’s life last year’. And what more could you ask for? I hope that what I’m doing is life affirming. Whether it saves lives or increases the quality of life, I hope that it empowers people to stand up against injustice and violence in all forms. But that one instance was the one that stuck with me the most, when they told me that I had literally saved somebody’s life.”
More resources about bullying prevention can be found at: https://www.stopbullying.gov/
Dowd’s published works, including his latest book, Your Confirmation Bible Companion: What Scripture as God’s Love Song Means for You, are available for purchase on Amazon.