Social, legal facets of bullying topic for author, Yale law grad

Emily Bazelon (Nina Subin)
Emily Bazelon (Nina Subin)

Emily Bazelon doesn’t hesitate to take on big social issues. “I was raised to see Judaism in terms of ethical precepts,” Bazelon told the AJP. The author of “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy” will speak in Tucson on Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. at the Loft Cinema. Bazelon’s talk on bullying is part of the “Thought Leader Speaker Series” presented by the Aurora Foundation, which received the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s 2012 Meyer & Libby Marmis Humanitarian Award.

Bazelon is the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing at Yale Law School, an investigative reporter, senior editor at Slate, and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine.

“I hope I’m furthering tikkun olam (repairing the world) in what I’m doing professionally,” says Bazelon, who grew up in Philadelphia. Her father is an attorney and her mother is a psychiatrist. Her grandfather, David L. Bazelon, was a federal appeals court judge, known in legal circles for his pioneering decisions in the field of mental health law. In fact, the Mental Health Law Project in Washington, D.C., was renamed the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law after he died in 1993.

“My grandfather took me to Israel when I was 11,” says Bazelon. “He was a big Zionist. He was raised Orthodox but saw his Judaism very much in ethics.” Her family, with her husband and two sons, belongs to a Reform synagogue in the New Haven area and they light Shabbat candles weekly. “In childhood I was interested in Hebrew,” says Bazelon.

After graduating from Yale University in 1993, she spent a year as a Dorot Foundation fellow studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, while also writing for the Jerusalem Post and the Jewish Forward.

“My real passion lies in writing,” says Bazelon. “I try to wrestle with certain big questions.”

A 2000 graduate of Yale Law School, she was a law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit. These days, Bazelon often writes about such topics as reproductive rights or overcriminalization of the law. She is a frequent guest on the Colbert Report; “Morning Joe”; NPR’s “All Things Considered,” “Fresh Air” and “Morning Edition.” Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, O Magazine, the Washington Post, Mother Jones and other publications. She wrote “Sticks and Stones” as a combination of her interest in journalism and concern about bullying as a parent. “Even for parents who are savvy about the Internet, we didn’t grow up with Instagram and Facebook,” she says, and therefore may not recognize the intensity of today’s bullying.

Children and teens hear about cyberbullying, says Bazelon, but media reports on “an epidemic of bullying is misleading. It’s not really the case. It gives kids the sense that [bullying] is an intractable problem and it’s really not true.”

Bazelon is currently working with a teacher on a guide to “Sticks and Stones.” There is a need, she says, for teens to speak honestly and constructively in educational formats such as advisory groups or homerooms. “The whole community has to take on bullying. You can’t have an assembly and wave a magic wand” to make it go away, says Bazelon. “You have to change the culture.”

Bazelon’s presentation will take place on Oct. 1 from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Loft Cinema, followed by a “Sticks and Stones” book signing and reception from 8 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $25 until Sept. 15; $35 thereafter; students with IDs, free. For more information, visit www.aurorafoundation.org/ms-emily-bazelon/.