Fix up the Speak Up

Our position: Although the Speak Up Line has potential to help with mental health problems, it can and needs to be replaced by a system that can address mental health issues and substance abuse concerns because the Speak Up Line has come to be used as a method of bullying.

The Speak Up Line started with good intentions. Unfortunately, it hasn’t lived up to its goals. And because of its failure, it should be replaced by a more effective mechanism that will do a better job helping students suffering from all types of problems.

The Speak Up Line now serves to bring two main issues to the attention of school officials as they arise: mental health and substance abuse. Students are encouraged to “anonymously report unsafe behavior.” Students report instances where one of their peers has expressed thoughts of harm to self or others. For cases such as this, the Speak Up Line is effective. Students can also report substance abuse. The way it is used for this purpose renders the mechanism broken.

Guaranteed anonymity when reporting a concern about a peer’s mental or emotional state is a wise resource for the school to offer students. When a friend shows signs of depression or suicide, it can be difficult for teens to tell trusted adults because those who are struggling sometimes ask their friends to keep quiet. But telling an adult is the best and bravest thing that a true friend of someone who is struggling can do. The fact that the Speak Up Line offers this opportunity makes it easier for students to do the right thing for their friend without feelings of guilt.

This offer of anonymity can save lives. But it can be offered without the other edge of the sword that the Speak Up Line brings. The Speak Up Line is meant for students to “anonymously report unsafe behavior.” Students unfortunately sometimes use it as a means to get people in trouble, rather than to help people who are in danger get out of trouble.

The school and the government have rules about substance abuse (e.g. the drinking age) that are meant to keep people safe. Following them keeps students safe. Those who are caught face punishments from the school that are meant to resolve issues that may contribute to underage drinking and drug use as well as deter such behavior in the future. From the results of the Illinois Youth Survey, it is apparent that LT needs these measures for its students now more than ever.

But the Speak Up Line is not the mechanism by which students abusing substances and alcohol should be punished and receive help. Here is why:

The system is, first of all, based entirely on anonymous reporting from students. There is a stigma associated with reporting other students for drug use. So, many reports related to substance abuse are based on personal vendettas against another particular student, rather than genuine care and concern for one’s peers. It seems that too often the Speak Up Line gets people into trouble instead of getting them out of trouble.

This tattling in order to get students into trouble constitutes a form of bullying. The fact that discretionary enforcement of the rules is left into students’ hands is a farce, but no one is laughing. It isn’t fair that the losers of that some students decide to hold each other accountable for breaking the rules while others go free. LT tells its students to “treat each other with dignity and respect.” Students who tattle on each other as revenge and only mean to cause misery by doing so are not acting in a dignified manner towards their peers. This behavior should not be encouraged. But the bottom line is that the Speak Up Line allows this to happen.

To be sure, the Speak Up Line can do good. If it actually helps a student get over an addiction or a mental health problem, it saves a life, and its existence to this point can be justified. But it needs to be replaced by something allowing students to anonymously report legitimate mental health and substance abuse concerns (about themselves or their peers) without promoting anonymous tattling for illegal activities. We need to do better than this.