‘Anti-bullying and the Media:  One Call, One Cause’

'Anti-bullying and the Media:  One Call, One Cause’

Local man to address Phoebe Prince bullying case at Westfield State

WESTFIELD, Mass., February 3, 2016- The Westfield State University Department of Communication in partnership with the Guest Lecture Series will host South Hadley resident and advertising executive Darby O’Brien.  O’Brien will present his lecture “Anti-bullying and the Media,” a conversation focusing around the bullying acts that occurred before the widely publicized suicide of South Hadley High School student Phoebe Prince in 2010. The lecture is scheduled for Thursday, February 11 from 5:30-7 p.m. in the Loughman Living Room in Scanlon Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

O’Brien gained national recognition when he broke the story of South Hadley teen Phoebe Prince’s suicide to the Boston Globe and highlighted the town’s silence about the bullying she received. His presentation will address how to use advertising and public relations tools to address difficult topics, such as bullying. His main message is simple. “We do not have to be silent about issues impacting our communities.”

The National Center for Educational Statistics states that one out of every four students reported being bullied during the school year. According to the Center for Disease Control, students who are bullied are at an increased risk for anxiety and depression and students who engage in bullying are at an increased risk for substance abuse and violent behavior in adulthood.

The event was organized by Dr. Susan Leggett, chair of the communication department and Suzanne Boniface, adjunct professor of communication. While bullying is a large problem in elementary and high school, Boniface said conversations around bullying are important to all age groups.

“Bullying not only occurs in schools but in the workplace and in other areas of our lives,” Boniface said.  “We all need to be aware of that and whether we are the victim or the observer, we need to address it.”

Boniface said she’s heard O’Brien’s lecture before and was struck by how powerful his messaging was.

“We as communities need to address these issues when they occur and Darby did not think her community was doing that,” Boniface said. “There was too much silence about it.  He broke that silence in a way we should all learn about. He stood up for the action that should have been taken.”

Boniface said that she hopes O’Brien’s presentation will inspire audience members to fight for causes that are important to them.

“There is much need in our world today for discussion,” Boniface said. “Whether the discussion is in person or through the media, there are issues that need to be brought to the forefront so real change can occur if needed.  He was not timid about starting the discussion in person and through the media. His talk will inspire others to speak to causes they believe in.”

O’Brien is the founder of Darby O’Brien Advertising, an agency located in South Hadley. He frequently uses his advertising and public relations skills to serve underdog causes, which range from opposing the quarry at the Mt. Tom Ski Area to defeating Springfield casino developers to fighting to open local reservoirs to kids for fishing. He has been profiled on the Today Show, Larry King Live, and Anderson Cooper and cited in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and People Magazine.

Prior to O’Brien’s public lecture, he will hold two open classroom events: “Creative action through public relations and advertising” from 11:15 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and “Branding on the edge for a cause” from 2:15 – 3:30 p.m. Both events will be held in the Owl’s Nest in the Ely Campus Center.

Many people were instrumental in coordinating the event including: Sandy Berkowitz, Education; Susan LaMontagne, Student Affairs; Tammy Bringaze, Counseling Center; Lynn Shelley, Psychology; Jon Conlogue, Residential Life; Kelly Hart, Enrollment Management; Pat Berube, Health Services; Margot Hennessy, EGST; Richard Lenfest, Athletics; Lizette Rivera, Diversity and Inclusion; Christina Swaidan, Art; Amy Szlachetka, Campus Center; Tony Casciano, Department of Public Safety.

The Guest Lecture Series is supported by funding from the Academic Affairs budget with the goal to enhance student learning and service to the larger community.  An advisory committee with representation by the faculty and librarians, staff, and students review proposals and recommend selection for the year.  For more information on upcoming speakers in the Guest Lecture Series, please visit