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Tzvi Schectman
BY Tzvi Schectman

The battle against bullying: Turning Bystanders into Upstanders

We have all experienced it. You see something happen and you are undecided if you should intervene and react. Eventually you tell yourself that it’s none of your business and continue on your way.

This scenario happens countless times every day in every high school around the world. A bullying incident is about to occur and nice, well meaning teens will look the other way and not intervene either because they are unsure of what they should do or because they don’t want to get involved.

Too many teens are bystanders… Friendship Circle wants to make them Upstanders.

Friendship Circle & Anti- Bullying

Friendship Circle is in a unique position to make a contribution in the field of anti-bullying. Seventeen years of experience in recruiting and educating thousands of teenage volunteers across the globe combined with the access to nationally recognized experts in the field of anti-bullying, allowed for the development of an innovative anti-bullying program, titled, “Upstander.”

The Founding of Upstander

The development of the Upstander program began in 2010 and was overseen by a leading expert in the field of anti-bullying and self-determination; Jina S. Yoon Ph.D., of Wayne State University. With developmental funding in part from the Department of Justice and the Walmart State-Giving Foundation, the Upstander curriculum was officially launched in five Metro Detroit high schools for the fall 2011 school semester.

The Upstander Curriculum

The structure of the Upstander curriculum consists of eight interactive seminars that take place during the school year, rather than providing one-time exposure. The educational material provides students with interactive activities and the opportunity to become an active part of the solution by proposing new ideas to reduce bullying within their own school environment.

Unlike most available programming – that concentrate on the perpetrators or victims in bullying situations – Upstander approaches the topic from the “Bystander’s” perspective, a category in to which the vast majority of students fall. These students are neither perpetrating nor being bullied but their presence gives an implied acceptance which may allow hurtful behaviors to continue.

Upstander Unite

On Wednesday, May 16th, two hundred students gathered together for the “Upstander Unite” event. This event celebrated the final culmination of eight months of anti-bullying training for five local high schools in Metro Detroit.

The Upstander Unite event began with a heartfelt video, recapping the years’ worth of activities and lessons and was followed by a game show that tested the knowledge of each school on the topic of bullying.

Rob Aquilina, a Walmart Manager, spoke to the audience saying, “I am here to commend you, the students, and to tell you that you have Walmart’s full support in your commitment to being an Upstander.”

John Halligan

Upstander Unite also hosted nationally renowned speaker, John Halligan as the main event of the morning. Halligan’s 13-year-old son Ryan committed suicide nearly 10 years ago after months and years of ridicule and humiliation. Halligan has dedicated his life to telling Ryan’s story in an effort to educate young men and women on the evils of bullying.

As John spoke of his fond memories of his late son and the tragic emotional journey of his family, all were deeply touched and inspired to not allow anyone to go through the pain that Ryan faced as the victim of bullying.

As Bassie Shemtov, Director of Friendship Circle and founder of Upstander, said to the crowd of 200 students, “I want all of you in this room to remember that you have the power to stand up against not only bullying, but the negative behaviors that lead to bullying like gossiping, judging, excluding your peers. You have been educated and empowered and now it’s your turn to lead the movement.”

To learn more about the Upstander program, visit
Read about the  Upstander Unite Event in the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News and The Oakland Press.

John Halligan speaks about his battle against bullying

Tzvi Schectman

Written on May 17, 2012 by:

Tzvi Schectman is the Family Coordinator for the Friendship Circle of Michigan and the Editor of the the Friendship Circle Blog. You can connect with Tzvi on LinkedIn and Google+