The Herald Bulletin

October 2, 2013

Empowering students to prevent bullying

Former Miss Indiana returns to hometown where she says she was bullied

By Traci L. Moyer
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — When Brittany Mason left Anderson High School she never planned to come back.

“When I left Anderson, I left and went far away,” she said.

Mason went on to become Miss Indiana in 2008 and a successful model and actress. She was recently featured on the 200th episode of “Two and a Half Men” as a guest star and has worked with supermodel Naomi Campbell.

But Mason’s memories of her hometown high school were dark and bitter. At the beginning of her junior year, Mason said she had to drop out of the public school system and completed her education at home because she was a victim of bullying.

On Wednesday, the 27-year-old Mason returned to the high school for the first time in 10 years. She spent the day talking to juniors and seniors about her days of torment and fear and she encouraged the students to take a stance against bullying. Today she will talk to freshmen and sophomores.

“I want to see a change in this community and I need your help,” she told the juniors at Anderson High School.

For Mason, the bullying started her freshman year. She said she was often teased, but some of the bullying took place in front of school administrators who did nothing to help her.

“Back then it was known as a rite of passage,” Mason said. “It tears a kid apart. They carry those emotions with them forever.”

The bullying also followed Mason home. She said her tires were slashed, Barbie dolls with the heads ripped off were strewn across her lawn and red paint was poured all over her yard. When Mason reported the bullying to school authorities she said they did not help her.

“I handled it the wrong way and it got so out of hand,” she said. “When I tried to get help, it was too late. They did not believe me.”

The ultimate humiliation for Mason happened during homecoming week. That is when the students took a picture of her, blew it up into a poster and during a pep rally they chanted, “you are ugly.” She said several students then chased her from the bleachers with water guns and drenched her with water.

Mason said the situation became so unbearable she did the unthinkable.

“Suicide is three times the homicide rate in Indiana,” she said. “I did not know what to do. I failed, thank God.”

Mason said the experience still haunts her, which is why she hosted a Bullying Charity Concert in Anderson last night to help raise money for an anonymous crisis hotline. Students can call the hotline if they are being bullied and get help for the situation. She said she only returned to Anderson after talking to Terry Thompson, the principal of Anderson High School.

Thompson said he thought Mason’s story was shocking. He said a recent school survey, however, revealed that 200 of the 1,900 students self-identified themselves as a bully or a want-to-be bully.

“This is something I will not tolerate,” Thompson said of bullying.

He said Mason’s message was important for students to hear.

Maribel Rivera, 16, said she has never been bullied, but she has seen people bullied at the school.

“It is mostly the girls who wear a lot of makeup or want to hang out with the guys that get bullied,” she said.

Gema Rodriguez, 16, agreed with her friend.

“They make fun of them,” Rodriguez said. “It isn’t the shy people.”

Ben Watson, 17, said the bullying at the high school is mostly verbal.

“It was a really good story,” he said. “Her story was really inspiring.”

Kel Raines, 18, is a senior and an aspiring model. She said she has been a victim of bullying for more than three years.

“No one has said anything to my face,” she said. “Pushing kids into the lockers and stuff like that just happens in the movies.”

She said the worst kind of bullying is cyber bullying where rumors are spread.

“They have asked me what does it feel like to have the whole school hate you,” Raines said. “Words do scar.”

Mason pleaded with students to stop bullying and if they witness someone being bullied they should step forward and talk to the victim. She said every student has the power to change a situation and she wanted them to feel empowered to do just that.

“You can save someone’s life,” Mason said. “No one was helping me, I felt worthless.”

Like Traci L. Moyer on Facebook and follow her @moyyer on Twitter, or call 648-4250.