After three years of unqualified success, the anti-cyberbullying effort known as the AT&T/ Siena College Upstanders Program will expand to high schools beyond New York state.
Siena’s Upstanders have visited 23 high schools throughout New York as ambassadors to educate teens about the dangers of cyberbullying. They offer peer-to-peer mentoring workshops on how to Stand Up to those who would seek to emotionally harm others online or otherwise. They have worked with more than 10,000 students, who have then gone on to educate thousands more of their peers about the dangers of cyberbullying.
Four student volunteers from Siena traveled to the University of Maryland/Baltimore in March to help train the newest group of college students, who will in turn train high school student leaders in their area as Upstanders. The Maryland outreach will begin this fall. April Backus, M.S.Ed., who directs the program for Siena, said they are also looking for partner schools so the program can be expanded into the Boston and Pittsburgh areas.
“The problem of cyberbullying is still pervasive,” said Backus. “We realized that Siena’s program could serve as a model for schools outside of New York. It made sense to expand it.”
Dominic DiCaprio ’22 said Siena's Upstander program is “exactly what the world needs right now” in a time of uncertainty and confusion.
“By educating the world about cyberbullying, we are not only teaching the students about the issues they are facing today, but we are helping them with the issues of tomorrow. Social media has come to the forefront of current-day American society, and cyberbullying is something that both adults and students suffer from. By teaching the community about the dangers of negative words and actions, we can create an amazing world."
"I consider myself blessed to be a part of the Upstanders anti-cyberbullying program," Diana Procopis '21 added. "There are many benefits of expanding the program: it allows others to become role models in their community; it teaches and empowers all of to stand up to cyberbullying; and it helps us build more positive relationships with others through social media."
Brendan Murphy ’20 said the Upstander program can help any high schooler with understanding the importance of speaking up.
“While not always being the quintessentially ‘cool’ thing to do at that adolescent age, it is the right thing to do. Our decision to act will always trump saying or endorsing hurtful words. Cyberbullying came about with this generation, and they can be the generation that ends it.”
This Upstander program was informed by the results of a 2016 survey conducted by the Siena College Research Institute, and was developed in cooperation with AT&T and the Tyler Clementi Foundation.
The program has been lauded by high school teachers and administrators across the state.
“We take bullying very seriously at all of our Capital Prep Schools” says Steve Perry, founder and head of Capital Preparatory Charter Schools in New York City. "Teaching our scholars to be empathetic citizens and creating an inclusive culture is at the core of our model. We also know that the only way to combat this systemic problem is to keep the lines of communication open, front, and center. AT&T and Siena’s powerful Upstander program has provided us a platform to continue the conversation in a meaningful way, designed to drive impact.”
Faculty advisor Lauren Sheeler of Shaker High School in Latham, N.Y., said she believes the assemblies are especially impactful to the students because the information is presented by their peers.
“When Siena approached us about presenting this important message, we saw it as an opportunity to educate and inform our school in a new way,” said Sheeler. “Hearing directly from their peers made the message that much more powerful and relatable.”