Module 09 - Inclusion and Alienation
Reading - Chapters 11 and 12
Phoebe Prince was a 15-year-old girl who had recently moved from Ireland to Western Massachusetts with her family. Phoebe had been the victim of severe harassment and bullying by a number of her classmates that appeared to stem from a brief romantic relationship she had with one of her tormentors. What seems to have happened is that Phoebe dated a boy in her class for a short period of time. The relationship ended badly and subsequently the boy and eight of his friends began a vicious campaign of bullying and social alienation toward her.
She was subjected to verbal taunts and threats of violence both in and outside of school. The gang of bullies harassed Phoebe on a regular basis. They often followed her home, continuing to taunt and insult Phoebe, and even threw things at her. After six weeks of the unyielding harassment, Phoebe could take it no longer. She returned home from school and hung herself in a hallway (CNN Wirestaff, 2010).
Following Phoebe's death, state prosecutors issued indictments against nine of her classmates, charging them with crimes ranging from stalking to statutory rape. Any punishment these individuals might receive will likely offer little solace to Phoebe's family and friends.
What does this terrible event say about the nature of social ties, the impact of alienation, and people's need to feel a sense of belonging? Research reported by Baumeister et al. (1995), Pickett et al. (2004), and others indicate that a need for belongingness is a fundamental human emotion and an essential component to psychological health.
Baumeister, Roy and Leary (1995) suggest that a positive and secure sense of belongingness maintains a powerful and significant effect on both emotional and cognitive functioning.
Feeling connected to others and a sense of belonging to a social group helps a person's overall wellbeing, improves physical health, and can assist a person's ability to adjust to adverse circumstances (Baumeister et al., 1995; Sanderson, 2009).
A lack of belonging, a sense of alienation, meanwhile, is detrimental to well-being and can compromise physical health and make adjusting to hardship all the more difficult (Baumeister et al., 1995; Sanderson, 2009; Buss, 1991; Lystad, 1972).
Ironically enough, the process of alienating one member of a social group can act to enhance the belongingness of the other members of the group.
Research reported by Muzapher Sherif (1958) and Deschamps and Brown (1983) notes that the presence of a superordinate goal frequently acts to augment bonds among peers and reduce intergroup conflict.
Here a 'superordinate goal' is a common goal that all members of the group collectively work toward; and the cooperation needed to achieve this common goal acts to strengthen the attachment bonds among members of the group (Sherif, 1958).
In this sense, the group of bullies who harassed Phoebe Prince attained a greater sense of connection, cohesion, and belongingness with one another by way of their mutual and collective tormenting of Phoebe.
It appears that one of the reasons why Phoebe was singled out by the group of bullies was her past romantic involvement with a boy from the bullying group. It is also likely, however, that she was made a target of their bullying because she came from a foreign country and was from a different cultural background.
Studies reported by Huffman (2001), Murdock (1999), Brand et al. (1974) and others note that students who are from cultural minorities are very often the focus of alienation from members of the cultural majority.
Being from Ireland identified Phoebe as a type of 'outsider' and this factor likely contributed to the bullies' decision to target her (and may even have been a factor in the teachers' and school administrators' neglecting to intervene...
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