How Silence In A South Carolina Classroom Speaks Volumes

Maria Ying
24-year-old Rutgers graduate. Born and raised in Disturbia, Surburbia. Writing about anything and everything. Let's get weird.

On October 26, the brutal take down of a teenaged student was filmed at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. The video begins with Deputy Ben Fields, “You’re either going to come with me, or I’m going to make you.” The student does not respond. Fields approaches the student and says, “Come on, I’m going to get you up.”All of a sudden, he attempts to pull the student from her seat and flings her, still in the desk, to the floor. The desk flips over and Fields is seen viciously dragging the student across the classroom floor. The officer calmly says, “Put your hands behind your back. Give me your hands.” The only voice heard throughout the entire video is that of Deputy Ben Fields. Every single person in the video is silent throughout the struggle, including authority figures such as the instructor and assistant principal.

It is strange and almost eerie to see that throughout the film, not another single voice in the classroom is heard. There is no protest. There is no outcry. There is no reaction aside from shock. No one intervened even when there was a full classroom with onlookers, including two adults. According to Psychology Today, the bystander effect is a social phenomenon, where all members of the group wait for cues from each other on whether to act or not. This mostly results in non action from any group members. Another component of the bystander effect is the issue of claiming responsibility. Bystanders will often assume that surely someone else will claim responsibility and intervene.

The bystander effect was coined after the murder of Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese (March 13, 1964); when over 30 witnesses saw and heard Winston Moseley rape and stab Kitty to death and flee the scene. The attacks took about half an hour. Several neighbors even heard Kitty scream “Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!” after Moseley began his attacks. On August 11, 2012, in Steubenville, Ohio, a high school girl, incapacitated from alcohol, was carried from party to party while being repeatedly raped. Her perpetrators caught everything on camera and documented her assault which spanned over a course of several hours with onlookers and dozens more who knew of the assaults. Authority figures such as, coaches and school officials had known about the rapes but refused to report it. History constantly repeats itself as witnesses fall spellbound to the bystander effect.

According to WLTX, one student (not captured in the video taken at Spring Valley High School) did find her voice among a sea of silence and proclaimed on behalf of her classmate. Niya Kenny was taken into custody and arrested for disturbing schools when she claimed social responsibility and intervened on behalf of another student. Kenny states, “I was screaming, ‘What the f, what the f is happening?’ I was praying out loud for the girl. I just couldn’t believe what was happening. I was just crying and he said, since you have so much to say you are coming too. I just put my hands behind my back.” The arrest of Kenny sends a message that intervening will result in punishment and reaffirms the bystander effect. Her arrest reinforces non action during times of crisis.

Bystanders believe it is not their responsibility to intervene. In a group’s stalemate of waiting for intervention, disturbing events unfold in front of the eyes of passive onlookers refusing to take action. In a classroom at Spring Valley High School, a student spoke out in a room of silence and was reprimanded and arrested for disturbing schools. What is really disturbing is the silence and absence of concern and altruism when the social welfare of others is at stake and the attempts to silence those who claim social responsibility for others. Have we forgotten our own humanity?

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