Sue, an Asian American girl from a working class family, was a leader among her friends until her argument with Jill.
Below you will find word-for-word excerpts taken from interviews conducted in 1998 as part of a Facing History and Ourselves evaluation study. Please note that the names have been changed to protect the privacy of the students. Also please note that the voices on the audio recordings are those of actors, and are not the actual voices of the students originally interviewed.
The Summer after Eighth Grade: Sue’s perspective on what happened and why.
SUE: I used to be friends with a really cliquey crowd, a really, like, a really popular crowd too, and then like um, last year, around December we got into a fight and then like, I was like in a fight with, like, ten girls against me, and it was, like, really bad, and we had to go to mediation and I had to go to therapy and everything cuz, like, the fight got really bad. And at one point it even got physical where like this girl came up to me and was like grabbing me and threatened me, and stuff.
It started because, like, Jill was going out with her boyfriend, and he liked her a lot, but, like, she didn't like him that much. She was afraid to get involved, like, into love or whatever, but like, um, I mean, this kid, his mother committed suicide and I felt really bad for him. And I thought how it was so sweet how he like, liked someone after like, all that happened to him, that's like so hard, and I just thought, like, Jill should be much kinder. Like, she didn't like him, and I mean... But like, I, like, said something in a letter that, we used to pass notes all the time, and I wrote something in a note like, about how it was like, wrong of Jill not to like Tony, or, like, ditch him like that kinda, ‘cause like Tony liked her a lot and they were going out, but she didn't want to do anything with him. And then, like, Rhonda told Jill or something, and then like, they both got mad. Jill got mad at me and then Rhonda got involved, and I don't know how Rhonda got involved, like, and I don't know how Tina got involved, but they all got involved. Like, the fight is so unclear how it started. I don't know how it turned into something that huge.
I know it's partly that the fight started as my fault and stuff, but it shouldn't have gotten as bad as it did with like, ten girls against one.
Rhonda and Tina had all these girls to back them up. It was, like, caused out of fear, I mean the reason they have back up. Fear that like, since other kids were picking on me, they were afraid to get picked on, so they backed them up and picked on me more.
It was like, so gradual. I had never thought it would go that far. One day they had found out I told [a teacher] or something, and they got really mad. From that point on, they, like, hated me a lot because I had told. They just thought that telling, like, snitching was like, the worst thing. So then, from then on they it became, like, so bad. They would like, um, say stuff in class, like make comments or laugh at me if I made a comment in class or anything. From then on, I just, like, lost any self-esteem I had or anything. I mean, bit by bit I lost it but, like, now I'm regaining it.
I think it was because Tina came in it made it all worse… Because the girls I had been friends with I had been friends with since fourth grade. That's a long time. And then after three years some girl comes with new views and everything, and a new attitude and stuff, and they start looking up to her and she changes everything. And so, she was able to do that, which is, like, powerful, I think.
When you have the ability to pick on someone, or like make fun of, like that's power and stuff. But like, it's not good power, it's like, the worst kind of power you could have. It's like Hitler's power. You know how Hitler was able to, like, do everything, you know, like, make people do stuff, like, that's, like, bad power. And to kill that much people, that's like, powerful to be able to do that, but it's, like, bad. And Tina was, like, able to get everyone to gang up on me. But that's cause she caused fear, you know.
I think the fact that I am Asian has a lot, actually, to do with it. Not why I was being picked on, it was more to do with why the fight got as big as it did. I think, I mean, because I was a minority, it was easier for them to pick on me. Like, there was even, like, times, like my parents would always be like, um, "Yeah, um, the reason why, like, now you have to go to therapy and not them- the reason why the guidance counselor was saying that there's something wrong with you and not them, is because you were probably the minority, and stuff."
And the thing was, they were all rich. Which is also like, the thing. I'm poor, I live in the projects and stuff, and I was, it's surprising to me now that I fit, I actually fit in that crowd, you know? I don't know how like, I did. I don't know how that ever was, you know…I think it's surprising that I went from being at the top, like coming from, like starting from a low background or whatever, to getting to the bottom again, and now being in the middle, kind of.
The Summer after Eighth Grade: Sue’s point of view on the impact of the incident and its aftermath on her.
SUE: I learned that you can't just trust everyone just because they say they your friends. And like, you have to be careful of what you say and you can't go around saying stuff just cause you feel like it. Now, like, when I make friends I am more cautious. I am also, like, paranoid, cause I am afraid of this happening again, you know, and then just like, before the fight I was like, I was probably like, so clueless, you know. Thinking I was like, all that and, like, not caring about other people. And I was, like, always prejudice against other people - it was just my crowd and no one else could come into it. And I would pick on other people too. I guess what goes around comes around. And it was probably partly, one of the reasons it happened to me. Like, I would always pick on other people that were different, but like, so I mean, now I wouldn't, you know. I think I understand more like, why people get picked on and stuff.
I always hoped that I would have someone to talk to, and I didn't. And that was the thing that hurt the most.
Actually, I was so driven. Cause that was, like, the only way I could block my mind off and everything. And I actually got like, good grades for a while, but then afterwards, everything just, like ,was the pits. You didn't want to go to school, you didn't want to do homework, you didn't even see the point of like, living, it was just so bad.
When I came into the 8th grade this year, I was like, I'm gonna drop everything that happened last year. I'm gonna be as nice as I can. ‘Cause I try to improve and try to change a lot because, I mean, and I try to be as not like I used to… I would always love to be the leader, you know. I used to love to be the leader, but now I wouldn't. I try to stay in the shadows more so people wouldn't notice me and stuff. But, like, this year, I didn't say anything. I never told a teacher if anything happened to me, I would try to ignore it.
I wanted to transfer, there were so many times that I wanted to transfer. There were actually some days when I would miss school just because I couldn't face it for that day.
The Summer after Eighth Grade: Sue’s perspective on the teachers' role in relation to the incident.
SUE: This isn’t a fight you could ignore. And it wasn’t a fight that you could confront, either, in a way.
You should be able to feel safe in a classroom, because there's a teacher, a supervisor, I mean, like, but now you can't. You don't feel, like, you can't feel safe at all even in the classroom. Cause they would say stuff to me inside of class.
I really had hoped, I wish that like, I don't know, I wish, like the teachers should have been able to stop it. But, I mean, I shouldn't have expected it, because they couldn't have.
I got mad at a teacher kind of, because she couldn't keep the class under control. Like when they made snide remarks, even though it shouldn't, like, I should try to ignore. It, it hurts, you know.
Teachers started putting into their lessons about friendships and fights and stuff. And they would always mention something about the fight, because the fight was so big, everyone knew it. Also because my guidance counselor e-mailed all the teachers and said, you know, to try to and look out for me in a way. They mentioned it, but the thing was, like, partly it made it worse, because Rhonda's crowd or Tina's crowd…they hated the fact that they were all being ganged up on by teachers, but I hated the fact that they were ganging up on me, you know. And I was thankful so much for even like the least help, you know, that they could do. And the teachers would incorporate that into our lessons. Like, “You shouldn't do what you don't want others to do to you,” but it never taught them anything. And the Facing History unit I related a lot, like, from last year I related a lot of stuff, like the books we read and, you know, those surveys we took. I've been a bystander, a victim and a perpetrator. In a lot of ways I can relate to a lot of those stories.
It [FHAO] helped me, like, know that I wasn't the only one who had gone through stuff like that, which helps a lot, to know that, you know? To know you aren't the only one and, like, that it happens. Like, reading those stuff was, like, it happened to teenagers, but it also reading, like, the Facing History, learning about the Holocaust made me realize that what happened last year wasn't as -- well, to me it was big, you know, cause it's my life -- but there is so many other worse stuff that can happen in the world you know, to kids my age, like what happened to Sonia Weitz at her age.
But now, like, there were two times when I really didn't want to live and stuff, and I would never think about, well there's other worse stuff happening to people. I would just feel like I have to just show them that I am not weak. But now I feel like I have to because, look at, I mean look at other situations. Why would you kill yourself over something like that, you know? Sometimes, like, you lose your perspective like that.
The Summer after Eighth Grade: Sue’s perspective on some positive outcomes of the incident.
SUE: Before I couldn't go anywhere by myself. I couldn’t even walk down the street by myself, it was like, oh, I needed a friend ... but now like, I don't know, you know? It's like, I've learned to be more independent and stuff.
Back then, I probably would have just been like, if I saw someone being picked on [by them] I'd probably go back them up, you know, like the more stronger people, but now, I mean, I try to stand up for the person.
>> What stands out for you about Sue’s perspective on the incident?
>> If you were an adult in Sue’s life (e.g. teacher, parent) what would you want her to consider that was not apparent in her perspective on the incident? What if you were one of her peers?