Youth-Nex and Curry Host Panel at VA Festival of the Book

Curry professors Dewey Cornell and Jane Hansen will be speaking at this year’s Virginia Festival of the Book, on a panel exploring how literature impacts school safety. Author, Meg Medina, who writes about the stresses of growing up, assembled the group for “Books, Writing, and Other New Strategies to Make Our Schools Safer.” The discussion will focus on encouraging students to preserve their personal identity and power in the face of bullying.

Date: Sunday, March 24, 2013
Time: 3:00 pm
Location: University of Virginia, BAVARO HALL, 417 Emmet Street South
This event is free and open to the public.

Cornell is affiliated with Youth-Nex and is the director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project. Hansen specializes in literacy and is co-director of the Central Virginia Writing Project, and Professor of Education, at the Curry School of Education.

Also joining the panel is Joseph Jones, Assistant Professor, Radford University, who works to address homophobia in schools, He is author of the e-book, Bullying in Schools: A Professional Development for Educators and Making Safe Places Unsafe: A Discussion of Homophobia with Teachers. Bob Garrity will moderate the discussion.

Ellen J. Daniels, Youth-Nex communications director, corresponded with author, Meg Medina, Dewey Cornell, and Jane Hansen about the event.

EJD: How did you originally become interested in the topic of bullying?

Dewey Cornell : I have been studying youth violence for nearly 30 years. I became interested in studying youth violence in 1984 after evaluating a high school student with no history of violence who had murdered a girl in her home. My motivation was that the girl had teased and humiliated him repeatedly at school, to the point that other students were calling him names and making fun of him. He was later sentenced to life in prison. I was stunned that bullying could have such a powerful impact on this boy and that it would have such tragic consequences.

Jane Hansen: As co-director of CVWP I am, in general, interested in strong writing, and Meg wrote her book in a strong voice. In addition, I’m a researcher in schools and know bullying is a huge concern of students.

EJD: How did this panel come about?

Meg Medina: The idea for a panel on bullying and Young Adult literature together as I was applying to be a featured author at the Virginia Festival of the Book. My new novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, is about identity, Latino culture, and mostly, about bullying. After doing some preliminary research, I realized that U.Va. has a significant presence in the area of bullying research — and also a history of developing teachers who use literature and writing in unconventional ways. The festival, the publication of my book, and the access to top-notch researchers converged into an idea. I reached out to Dr. Jane Hansen, Director of the Central Virginia Writing Project, and she was immediately enthusiastic about helping me organize a panel. She reached out to her colleague Dr. Cornell at Youth-Nex and to Bob Garrity of Garrity Mediation. The final addition of Dr. Joseph Jones (Radford University) came at the suggestion of the Virginia Festival of the Book organizers. Altogether, we’ve assembled a panel that comes at the question of resilience and abuse from unique perspectives.

EJD: What would you like to see come out of this panel?

MM: I am so happy to see this panel come together. I bring to the table Young Adult literature that names the experiences of young people. The other panelists bring years of research and creative thinking to address the problem of building resilience. My greatest hope is to see not only fans of Young Adult literature, but also a cross section of people who are impacted by the issue of bullying: Young people, law enforcement, teachers, librarians, and families. I think it’s going to be a fabulous and deep discussion.

JH: It is important for children who are being bullied to know there is an adult working to solve their concern.

DC: I think this panel is a great opportunity to raise awareness about the problem of bullying and to show how a novel can help students understand and cope with bullying. Many youth are exceedingly reluctant to seek help for bullying, and this book may help them realize that many young people experience bullying and can be just as confused and upset about it as Piddy in this novel. Most importantly they can see that they can find a way to work things out. Bullying can take many different forms and it cuts across cultural and social backgrounds, as this book illustrates so well. Hispanic youth can identify with the character of Piddy and learn from her fictional experiences.

EJD: How would you describe your work, what you like to write about and why?

MM: Generally speaking, I write about the struggles of growing up, and I look at those struggles through the lens of Latino families. I am especially drawn to strong Latinas as characters, perhaps because I was surrounded by so many strong women as I grew up. I am happy to say that I am finding a welcoming audience. Publishers are eager for multicultural fiction for young people, and of course, we know that the growth of Latino families has been enormous in recent years. In Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, I returned to a small incident from my own life, where I was at the mercy of a school bully. What I remember of that time was the enormous shame and fear that followed me everywhere—and how the tentacles of those feelings spread out and choked everything around me: grades, identity, relationship with my family. I wanted to write about that experience as honestly as I could.