Anyone who visits the Whistler Secondary School’s (WSS) multipurpose room this week will see a large, colourful mural of hearts adorning the walls, organized in the shape of a rainbow.
In the middle of the hearts are a series of staggering statistics. For example, that 80 per cent of teens reported having seen racist or sexist content online, that more than one in five teens who are unsure of their sexual orientations have experienced online bullying, or that, when peers intervene, most bullying incidents stop within 10 seconds.
Surrounding these statistics are tiny Post-It Notes displaying messages of positivity, courage and acceptance, intended to lift each other up.
The mural was assembled in honour of Pink Shirt Day, a global anti-bullying campaign that’s been marked annually in B.C. since 2008. The event originated in Nova Scotia one year prior, when students David Shepherd and Travis Price bought and doled out 50 pink shirts to their classmates, after a boy in ninth grade was bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school.
This year, the Grade 11 and 12 leadership students tasked with organizing Pink Shirt Day activities at WSS decided to put an extra emphasis on diversity and inclusion to the LGBTQ+ community—hence the rainbow-themed mural—explained student Kaiya Nixon in a Zoom interview Feb. 23.
“It’s also our understanding that the universal theme of Pink Shirt Day within Canada now is mental health, so what we did as part of our mural is ask students to write positive messages,” she said. “So that's kind of encouraging good mental health.”
Though WSS students would typically recognize the day with a school-wide assembly, the coronavirus pandemic forced them to consider new ways of marking the occasion.
Instead of the gathering, leadership delegates visited each class to discuss the importance of the anti-bullying initiative and to collect the uplifting Post-It messages that are now displayed within the rainbow mural.
Those messages are, “mainly simple things like, ‘Stay happy,’ and ‘We'll get through this.’ One of the best ones is an ‘encourage-mint,’ and someone drew a spearmint,” said student Sean Benson with a laugh. “There's about 500 kids at our school so that’s about 500 messages on the wall of just positivity and encouragement. I think it’ll really help some people.”
He added, “There is a misconception that there isn't bullying here … so all of the statistics really help show that that's not true. We still have bullying here, and all across the country. And then the positive messages kind of help to encourage everyone to be kind and treat others how you want to be treated yourself.”
Though Pink Shirt Day has, at its core, always been focused on students’ mental health and well-being, the pandemic and the added stress it’s placed on both students and teachers has also reinforced the importance of checking in on each other, said WSS student Sierra Haziza.
“We haven't been able to do all the fun things in the past that we normally do that kind of creates a strong sense of community at WSS, so I think that in sending these messages, even though they're kind of like light and fun, is helping to kind of create a positive sense of community,” she said.