Historic Gift Establishes Jean M. Alberti Center for Prevention of Bullying, Abuse and School Violence in UB Graduate School of Education

Symposium on Bullying Launches New Center

Release Date: April 27, 2010

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A gift from UB alumna Jean Alberti is being used to establish a national center on the prevention of bullying, abuse and school violence in the Graduate School of Education.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education will become the site of a national center for the prevention of bullying, abuse and school violence, thanks to the largest gift in the school's history.

The gift from UB alumna Jean M. Alberti, PhD, a clinical and educational psychologist based in Chicago and former local elementary teacher, will establish UB as a proactive national resource on the prevention of bullying and other antisocial behavior among school children. The center's first activity is a daylong symposium today in UB's Slee Hall. More than 400 teachers, administrators, child psychologists, law enforcement officials and others interested in the bullying issue attended.

The Jean M. Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence will research, identify and disseminate a variety of interventions that share the common goal of preventing this type of abuse.

"We need to change the way people look at this problem to reflect the message that bullying is child abuse by children," said Alberti, who participated in the daylong symposium. "No one I've ever heard or read about talks about bullying in that language. Until we change the language, we can't change people's understanding of the problem.

"My hope is that this new center will change people's thinking by changing the term to 'bullying abuse,' thereby generating new conversations, initiatives and research about the prevention of bullying."

Mary H. Gresham, dean of UB's Graduate School of Education, said Alberti's "incredibly generous gift" will support and encourage efforts to end bullying abuse, "which is indeed child abuse, as perpetrated by other children."

Alberti chose UB's Graduate School of Education for the gift after Gresham learned about Alberti's concept of bullying as child abuse and invited her to deliver a lecture on it at UB in 2008.

"Dean Gresham has enthusiastically made connections with other UB departments, educators in the public schools and others outside of education who are interested or involved in this issue," said Alberti. "Their interest and enthusiasm for the center's creation were critical to my decision to locate it at UB."

To mark the opening of the new center, UB's Graduate School of Education hosted today's symposium, "Prevention of Bullying, Abuse and School Violence," which featured a keynote address by Dorothy Espelage, a renowned expert on the prevention of bullying from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Alberti opened the presentations with the address "Bullying is Child Abuse by Children." The conference also featured examples of successful interventions from local school and law enforcement officials, and included sessions on cyberbullying, character education and evaluations of existing programs.

Activity in the Alberti center will address problems faced by victims, bullies and bystanders. It is also intended to help schools create a social climate that promotes tolerance of diversity and individual differences to break the cycle of negative behavior between victims and bullies.

This will include sponsoring faculty research to identify best practices and public lectures to encourage awareness and collaboration, as well as encouraging alliances among teachers, administrators, students and parents, Gresham said.

"We believe that this is a multifaceted problem best addressed through sharing our knowledge, skills and resources," Gresham said. "Partnerships are essential to our success."

Gresham emphasized the driving force to establish this center came from Alberti's passion to address what has been an increasing problem locally and nationwide.

According to Alberti, educators trained in psychology know that children learn from the consequences of their behavior. "A lack of negative consequence equals a positive reward," she said.

"Children learn to bully to get what they want and to intimidate the victim and the bystanders who might be tempted to help," Alberti said. "Those bully abusers grow up to be spousal abusers, elder abusers, employee abusers and abusers of their own children.

"So the problem will continue to grow exponentially because bully abusers get away with it -- unless we curb it now."

Bullying has been a topic of heated discussion in the media recently, with national celebrities Bill Cosby, Larry King and Tyra Banks weighing in on high-profile incidences of bullying.

"I've been disturbed, like many people, by the apparent increase in bullying in our nation's schools," said Alberti. "These media cases are the tip of the iceberg. Literally, millions of children suffer from being bullied every year. Many of them stay home from school out of fear from this bullying. Those who do attend class are preoccupied about what awaits them in the hall, cafeteria, restroom and bus, which sabotages their school performance.

"The effects of such abuse have lifelong consequences. A major consequence is depression, founded on hopelessness and helplessness, leaving the sufferer with a crippling sense of powerlessness. This makes it a mental health issue as well as a public health issue," Alberti added. "And it's not limited to the few victims the public hears about who commit suicide or those who turn to school violence."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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