Pop megastar Lady Gaga has some new partners for her next big project, and they’re not the usual fashionistas and entertainers the outrageously dressed diva is known for. Instead, they’re educators, researchers, and community activists from Harvard University and elsewhere. And instead of putting on a show, this project aims to support youth, prevent suicide, and stop bullying.
The Born This Way Foundation has a mission to “teach advocacy, promote civic engagement, and encourage self-expression” among youth, and to “create a safe online environment to celebrate individuality.” It aims to communicate directly to teens, and help them lead change in their schools and community even if adults aren’t already taking an initiative.
The foundation, currently helmed by Lady Gaga’s mother, seems to be still getting its feet under it, and gathering awareness and momentum. But there are already some interesting resources to explore on its website.
There you’ll find, for example, a place for youth to share stories of being “brave” – which, in the stories shared so far means standing up to bullies, celebrating individual passions for art, music, or fashion, despite social pressure, accepting their sexual orientation despite intimidation, and generally developing and maintaining a positive self-image in spite of being labeled or ostracized by their school community.
The site also features a series of working papers from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, as part of their “Kinder & Braver World Project.” In comparison with the loud and graphic BTW website, these papers look dry, but they are actually very readable, practical, and useful resources for students and school officials alike. Written by experienced university psychologists and researchers, they could be used as strong supporting pieces of evidence in convincing an institution to adopt anti-bullying measures, for example.
- An Overview of State Anti-Bullying Legislation and Other Related Laws
- What You Must Know to Help Combat Youth Bullying, Meanness, and Cruelty
- Bullying Prevention 101 for Schools: Dos and Don’ts
- Implementing Bullying Prevention Programs in Schools: A How-To Guide
Here are a few suggestions we like from the paper Changing the Culture: Ideas for Students:
- Form a student political action committee (PAC) to promote a culture-change agenda by student government. Write a “platform” for a culture of respect. Either put forward a candidate or support one likely to run on a culture-change platform.
- Create a “friend zone” in the lunch room. Establish a group of students who are willing to watch over the well-being of other students. Publicize that a friend zone exists during every lunch period and make sure that at least 2 members of the friend-zone group are sitting at a table with space for anyone who needs someone to sit with – a “new kid,” someone feeling marginalized or threatened, etc. Make it clear that the group doesn’t “require” anybody to be friends with anybody – that you’re just creating a safe space for people to be (nothing required of anybody), that by “safety” you mean a place of respect, no judgment, etc.
- Develop a Wisdom-Gathering Video Project to enhance the school community’s learning about the impact of bullying and social aggression As an extracurricular Culture Change Project, videotape interviews with school staff (bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teachers, librarians, tech coordinators, counselors, administrators, and janitors). Invite them to talk about their own personal and professional experiences with bullying, and edit and post a video sharing the best of their insights.
Lady Gaga is known for using her music to reach out to youth who feel marginalized or are struggling to define and accept their sense of self. Her chart-topping dance anthem “Born This Way” includes lyrics like:
I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way.
We’ll be keeping our eye on the Born This Way Foundation – and hoping it grows into a positive force for change, especially in supporting youth.