CALGARY – A woman who went to the same Chestermere school as a teenager who recently died by suicide says years of bullying and racism at the school have been swept under the rug.
Abeg, 15, died by suicide this past weekend and her family says her death was the result of her being bullied at school.
The family said they spoke to the school last November after noticing Abeg had changed and she admitted she was being bullied but nothing was done.
Stephanie Sargeant and her brother also attended St. Gabriel the Archangel School east of Calgary and she says she’s not surprised about reports staff did nothing to stop bullies from tormenting the student.
She says for years, she and her brother reported being bullied and called slurs. She says classmates even drew her depicted as a monkey and staff did not recognize blatant racism.
“The attitude was usually just that ‘kids will be kid, kids are rough on each other, this isn’t any different from what any kids go through and it will be dealt with accordingly.’ … I personally never received follow up for any of the times I brought it forward,” she said.
Sargeant’s grades began slipping in grade 10, she was seeing counsellors for her mental health and felt staff focused on her poor performance instead of the underlying issues at school.
She quickly transferred to a Calgary high school where she landed on the honour roll.
“It’s so, so, so lonely. Just the constant tormenting–that girl was so afraid even go to school, she didn’t even feel like she could step through those doors safely. I think that speaks volumes to the type of environment that’s going on there.”
The Centre for Newcomers says it’s disheartening when a victim of bullying brings the issue up with authorities and doesn’t see any steps be taken to make the school a safer place.
“They can internalize a lot of the issues that they are facing which can lead to all the depression and the sadness,” said Ekene Balogun, Manager of Youth Services, Centre for Newcomers.
Sargeant says there’s something fundamentally wrong at that school and the racism she endured left scars that still are still painful five years after leaving the school.
“It really impacts the people you say it to and it really, really sticks with them. The way that I looked at myself as a young woman, the way that I viewed myself, the way that I had to watch my brother view himself–it’s just hard stuff.”
Calgary Catholic School District says it can’t comment on any specific situation because of privacy, but sent CityNews this statement:
At Calgary Catholic, all reports of bullying are taken very seriously. Hurtful behaviour of any kind is not tolerated within our schools and we all have a shared responsibility to accept and support each member of our community.
We strongly encourage all our students and parents to come forward if they experience any kind of harassment or bullying. We work with all our families as well as the CPS or RCMP if needed to address any ongoing concerns.
Student safety is always a priority at our schools and administration reviews school codes of conduct annually for referral during situations of conflict between students. Collaboration and open dialogue among administration, staff, students and parents is key in helping achieve our goal of working to eradicate bullying from the school environment.