What “Be the Difference” Really Means

By Sabrina Bong — Nate and I spent part of last week doing some classroom guidance lessons that discussed the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and how students in the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District differed from students around the nation. We try to make the lessons fun and engaging by doing little competitions and keeping student participation and enthusiasm at a high.

One of our last lessons, however, was a very sobering one.

The YRBS looks at four separate categories: mental health, school safety, alcohol and other drug abuse (AODA), and sexual behavior. When we talk about the survey, we have the students try to guess the correct answer to the questions. Most of the questions ask what percent of students do a particular thing, or have reported feeling a certain way.

One of the questions was “What percent of high school respondents reported that they were forced verbally or physically to take part in a sexual activity at least once in their life?”

This question generated a lot of discussion in the classroom. It seemed as though many of the students were uncomfortable thinking about this possibility. The uneasiness seemed to intensify when we told them that it is believed that one out of four girls will be sexually assaulted at some point in her life.

There were a lot of comments from the girls about how disgusting that was, and how men were such pigs for doing such a thing. They said that it was horrible that men were doing such a thing and that they were all jerks. The boys in the class sat quietly, staring at their hands.

“We agree that this is not a good thing,” Nate said. “Obviously, no woman should have to go through that. But not all men are like this.” He paused, and then said, “I would like, right now, for all the boys in the room to vow that they would never do something like this to a girl. When she says no, it means no. Promise that you will always treat your girlfriends and wives with respect.”

It was quiet. And then, I heard many of the boys in the class saying, “I promise.” “I will.” “I will never do that to someone I’m with.”

It is tough being a teenager, especially in today’s society. More often than not, people only hear the bad things about teenagers: the drunk driving, the bullying, the riots and fights. In a time when teenagers are often given a bad reputation, it was encouraging to hear these boys humbly promise to always treat their significant others with respect. I have faith that every student in that classroom – boys and girls – will remember this lesson and treat others with the same courtesy and respect that they would like to be treated with.

At Marquette, we always told to “Be the Difference” and I have always struggled to understand what exactly that meant. Does “be the difference” mean I have to do something major, like solve world hunger? However, I saw a true example of students “being the difference” this week, and all they did was take a  simple vow to practice what we preached.

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