WILDWOOD — A handful of students from Lower Cape May Regional High School sat around a table and each took turns telling their peers about a concern they have.
Although some of the students offered support, others ignored or belittled the problem.
They weren’t being unkind, they were doing what was instructed.
This was a lesson on bullying and respect, part of the keynote speech by Jeffrey Bucholtz during Cape Assist’s 23rd annual Peer Leadership Conference on Friday.
“He gets us to interact and when a public speaker can do that, that’s really good,” said 17-year-old Darion Lamar of North Cape May.
Hundreds of teens from around Cape May County gathered in the ballroom of the Convention Center for the conference that addressed bullying, and also touched on respect and consent.
“It’s been the kids telling us that’s the biggest problem,” said Katie Faldetta, the executive director of Cape Assist.
She said the conference was moved from April to November a few years ago at the request of the schools, which felt the lessons learned could be applied better throughout the school year than at the end of it.
Faldetta said that Cape Assist wants the students to feel empowered to step in when they see an issue of bullying arise.
“We feel privileged to be a part of what the kids do for the rest of year,” she said. “This gives them the support and understanding that they can make a change. We know it works because the advisers tell us they see it working throughout the year.”
Bucholtz, director of the California-based organization We End Violence, used the lyrics from popular songs to show how pervasive disrespectful language is in American culture.
Pointing to the song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, he said the song focused on consent, or lack thereof.
In reference to the song “Animal,” by Maroon 5, Bucholtz said that it was hard to tell if the song was about love or drug addiction, and the lyrics refer to stalking behavior.
“I’m telling you, you can change this world of disrespect,” he said, by choosing better words.
Bucholtz encouraged the students to stand up for someone who is being wronged. And if they do not or cannot, they should be the “hypeman” to anyone who does.
“The way we support each other really matters,” he said.
Student Emery Kronemeyer of Cape May said the message in Bucholtz’s presentation was very relevant to today.
“Say it louder for the people in the back,” said Kronemeyer, 17, a student at Lower Cape May Regional.
Middle Township Middle School student Maggie Shulte, of Cape May Court House, felt Bucholtz’s message was very important.
“It’s happening on a day-to-day basis where people get bullied, and we need to make a change,” Shulte said.