ASCC SGA Holds Forum on Cyber-Bullying and Suicide


By James Kneubuhl, ASCC Press Officer

Published on October 8, 2020

Photo 1 Panelists on the Cyber-Bullying/Suicide Forum hosted by the Student Government Association. (Photo: J. Kneubuhl)

Photo 2 Dean of Student Services Dr. Emilia Le'i (far left) and SGA members. (Photo: J. Kneubuhl)

The Student Government Association (SGA) at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) recently held a forum on cyber-bullying and suicide, two issues of increasing concern to both students and the public. For the event, which followed the theme “There is Still Hope,” the SGA invited a panel of guest speakers from the community to share their insights and experiences on these topics, and the audience of ASCC students, faculty and staff, and community members came away with a broader perspective on how to cope with these events as well as where to seek assistance should these problems touch their lives.


The panel included Lornalei Meredith, President of the American Samoa Bar Association and a partner in the MTL Law Firm; Adney Reid, Licensed Clinical Social Worker; and community members Alvina Savali and So’onafai Seloti, both of whom have experienced the suicides of family members. Meredith served as moderator for the panel and began with a presentation on the definition of cyber-bullying and a legal perspective on it. In broad terms, cyber-bullying can be defined as the intentional and sustained posting online of negative information or opinions by one person or group aimed at another. Cyber-bullying can also take the form of “cyber-stalking” where one person becomes an unwanted presence in the online activities of another, a behavior that can escalate to the perpetrator becoming a nuisance or a threat not just online, but in real life as well.


As a relatively recent development, explained Meredith, the legal response to cyber-bullying continues to evolve. Issues of online expression frequently intersect with issues of free speech, so taking legal action against cyber-bullying involves proving that words and/or images posted online are unquestionably intended as a threat or an attack, rather than simply an opinion. In cases where cyber-bullying clearly leads to a damaging consequence, legal recourse is possible, as long as an effect can be clearly linked to a cause. Meredith reminded the audience to take the same responsibility for their online behavior as they do for their actions away from the internet, and to show the same respect to others online as they would in person.


From Meredith’s presentation, the focus of the forum transitioned to the topic of suicide, made especially urgent given the recent increase in cases within the community. Reid, who currently works for the Department of Health and has previous experience off-island in responding to suicide cases, spoke first. He shared his experiences of interviewing students in mainland schools where a suicide had taken place, and explained how this served as a preventive measure against other students following suit, since mental health professionals have long observed how one suicide can trigger another or more. Discussing the social stigma that surrounds suicide, Reid emphasized the importance of personal empathy towards anyone who even hints they could be contemplating the act. “For someone to share that kind of personal thought means they’re reaching out for help,” he reminded the audience, “and just by responding with sympathy you can make the difference that saves their life.”


Neither of the next two speakers, Savali and Seloti, work as professionals in the health care field, but both were willing to share their firsthand experience of the effects suicide has on the families of the victim. Savali spoke of how even after 20 years she still feels the loss of her father, who unexpectedly took his life the year she graduated from high school. “I’ve forgiven him and I’ve moved on with my life,” she shared, “but you never get over wondering why this had to happen.” For Seloti, the tragedy occurred only a few months ago but equally without warning, the victim being her brother, an ASCC graduate who had also recently become a father. Both women spoke lovingly of their departed family members, still celebrating the joy these individuals brought while still alive. The stories told by Savali and Seloti illuminated how families can find the strength and dignity to cope with the tragic loss of a member, even while life will never fully be the same, and the impression they made on the audience was one of resilience rather than despair.


Even with the seriousness of the subject matter, SGA President Perosimelemaofeira Vaofanua felt the forum had succeeded. “It gathered a variety of ASCC students to listen, learn and understand more about mental health, cyberbullying and suicide,” she said. “With the increasing trend of suicide and more cases of cyber-bullying, we want to remind our community that ‘There Is Still Hope’- hence, the theme of our event. It’s important to break the silence and shed light on these topics in order to get through the psychological stigmas tied to them. Most importantly, an event like this provides a safe space for those who have been affected to heal and process their feelings, while also gaining awareness of preventative steps.”


For more information on the activities of the SGA, see the ASCC online catalog available at: www.amsamoa.edu.