LEBANON, Tenn. – A Tennessee high school student's anti-bullying video has resulted in nearly 600,000 views on YouTube and a suspension for its creator.
Lebanon High School student Emily Gipson said school administrators accused her of "trying to incite violence" and gave her a two-day in-school suspension for the video entitled "Welcome to Lebanon High School," posted Jan. 22.
In the video, prompted by a classmate's October suicide, she asks students to treat each other better. It's a broad indictment of campus culture, but contains neither profanity nor calls for direct action.
"Welcome to Lebanon High School, where smiles are fake and suicide prevention is something to laugh at," she said in the video, criticizing her peers' reaction to the Stop It app the Wilson County school had put out in response to the death.
Her ire was not restricted to students, however. Perhaps the harshest words in Gipson's free-verse speech were reserved for school administration.
"Posters say 'Smile' and 'Be happy,' but how am I supposed to be happy in a world — no, in a community — where creativity is put down, where the people who make fun of others never get punished because 'There's no proof,' or 'There's nothing we can do about it,' or, my favorite, 'Kids will be kids,'" she says in the video.
"So let's summarize: We're expected to come to this emotional prison every day, and we're expected to forgive the bullies because the authorities are sure they didn't mean it. Sometimes I wonder how many kids it takes dying to make a difference."
Principal Scott Walters told The Lebanon Democrat he can't discuss the 16-year-old's punishment, but said he took issue with the fact that the free-verse speech was recorded in a classroom without a teacher's permission. Gipson disputed that, saying she had two coaches' permission.
Walters also said the video hurt his feelings, and those of teachers, too.
He said he's received feedback from parents and students who didn't agree with the video, including a gift from a student who told him he was doing a good job. He also said people could learn from Gipson's viewpoint.
"I can appreciate the perspective of the video," Walters said. "Of course, she's 16, and her perspective is going to be different from mine."
Kenneth Gipson, her grandfather and guardian, said the principal told him the only reason the teen was punished was because she didn't have permission to take the video on school grounds. "I don't have a problem with that. She violated their policies," he told The Associated Press
But Gipson says he's proud of his granddaughter for expressing herself.
"I applaud her for taking a stance. She's speaking against something that is obviously an issue in today's society — today's schools especially. I don't have a problem with the videos at all. I wish she hadn't of done the first one the way she did it inside the classroom, but as far as the message goes, I'm all for the message. I think she's done a great job in bringing to light a very sensitive and needed subject."
Gipson said her punishment is worth the good she feels the video has produced.
Then she posted another spoken-word poem on Youtube, titled "Have I Made a Difference Yet?" urging teenagers like her to speak up.
"I never knew that it would get this big, and through it getting this big I've learned a lesson: This is not my school, this is everyone's school, this is a national problem," she said.