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Columbus Sophomores Perform Play About Diversity, Anti-Bullying

The Ohio Supreme court this week dismissed a lawsuit filed by the parents of an Ohio high school student who committed suicide after being bullied at school. The parents claimed school officials in Mentor ignored the bullying. The federal government estimates one in three adolescents is bullied. This spring a group of Columbus students are using theater to spread an anti-bullying message. It's mid-morning at Arts and College Preparatory Academy, a charter school just off South Hamilton Road that prides itself on being a safe, respectful place for teens to learn. A group of sophomores are rehearsing a play. It's titled "The Equality Project." The play started three years ago as an effort to celebrate diversity and combat prejudice which are often the roots of bullying. Each year a new group of students brings to the play real-life experiences that deal with disparity. The stories are woven into the play as monologues. "Be me for one day. You'll see what I go through. Being rejected because I'm different. Because I'm me. Sometimes I think I should change for people just to fit in. But that's just not me. You can love me or hate me, but I'm here to stay. I got teased all last year for hanging out in the theater and choir room, not hanging with the guys or doing sports. But I'm me, and I'm here to stay," recited Desmond Collins. "I was bullied because I'm gay, obviously. And I've been bullied since middle school and last year at my old high school. And they basically called me a freak. And I'm not ashamed of who I am. I actually love it. And if people can't accept me for the way I am then I guess they're missing out," Collins said. All of the plays monologues are as powerful as Collins', who changed schools because of bullying. In her monologue, classmate Angel Evans describes verbal and physical abuse by students at her former school. "People I don't even know call me a slut and they say that they hate me. But why? For what reason? Why are people so full of hate? Last year around my birthday someone set me up to get jumped. They watched three people attack me in the middle of the street and kick me until I was half-conscious. Since then I haven't trusted and I've pushed people away who truly love," Evans rehearsed. While the play addresses discrimination based on sexual orientation and highlights other prejudices it also tries to explain why people bully. "Good morning, class. Today we'll be reviewing social hierarchies. What's that? Well, you think he's a crime against nature, she's white trash, and he's gonna steal your ipod while you call me a snowflake. But why does it even matter? It matters because no one person is truly better than anyone else. But since you were raised with these prejudices you tend to put yourself above every other different social group. OK. Still doesn't apply to me. Don't you care in how to fix this?" Students will perform Wednesdays this spring at different schools around the Columbus area. Friday, Ohio State's College of Social Work students and other social workers will see the play as part of educational training. Vicki Fitts, who lectures at the college, said the play provides more than just a message. "They use theatre techniques to help the kids explore social issues. And in their investigation and exploration in social issues they're also tapping into their own emotions and feelings on a subject," Fitts said. Bullying is nothing new, but Fitts added the Internet has made it more destructive. "It's no longer being bullied in front of five kids on the playground. Whatever material about them is being released into cyberspace can be forwarded to everybody in that child's social circle to the point where there's no place for the child to hide," she said. Back at the Arts and College Preparatory Academy students are wrapping up their rehearsals. "The main thing I really want people to get out of it is that any little thing that you say to anybody can impact their entire life. You never what a person is going through in that moment," Angel Evans said.