The Bullying of Marissa Powell (Miss Utah)

Imagine for a moment: you’re on stage in front of thousands of people. Hot lights are shining down on you. Around three million people around the world are watching you on their televisions. Put yourself in that position. You’re in it to win it. Put yourself there.

Now answer a random question read to you by Nene Leakes.

How are you feeling?

This is where Miss Utah, Marissa Powell, found herself on June 16th during the Miss America Pageant in Las Vegas. She fumbled, tried to recover, and did the best she could. Now she’s a YouTube sensation for all the wrong reasons (watch video).

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Now, I will be honest. I wasn’t watching; I didn’t know it was on, and I could have cared less. Last time I enjoyed watching a beauty pageant- Sandra Bullock and William Shatner were involved and it was hilarious.

Moving on.

I knew nothing about the pageant or Miss Utah’s fumble until the following day when I spotted a video on the YouTube home page. I didn’t give it a second thought. Then it appeared on the Daily Show, Jimmy Fallon, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr…it was viral.

I caved. I watched it. Frankly, I’m ashamed.

Being on stage is not the easiest thing in the world. I’ve been in front of hundreds of audience across this country ranging in attendance from 20-4,000. It’s nerve-wracking and I already know what I’m going to say. I can’t imagine being put in front of MILLIONS of people.

Marissa was first in line for the questions and she didn’t do so hot. She knew what she wanted to say but nerves took over and she fumbled, did her best to recover, and quit while she was ahead. I have nothing but respect for that.

What I’m ashamed of are the thousands of commentators out there bashing this young woman for her fumble. This is bullying at its worst. Isn’t this what we’ve been telling our kids is wrong?

On one YouTube video alone there are comments like “This is the reason why men make more than women” and “I am now dumber for having listened to this.” Others went on to comment on what she should have said. Of course you can do better; you’re sitting at home on the computer with no one watching.

This is a prime example that bullying isn’t just happening with kids. Bullying is an epidemic in schools, workplaces and all over the cyber world. In this instance we have thousands of strangers making fun of someone who was in a stressful situation.

If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is how our words can affect others. While Marissa has been able to laugh about her flub and make fun of herself, I can’t imagine these mean-spirited comments calling her “un-American” and “an example of why women will never be better than men” aren’t taking an effect on her.

It’s easy for us to judge from afar. But I want you to close your eyes. Imagine those spotlights. Put yourself in her shoes.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Should Cell Phones Be Allowed In Schools?

I stumbled across a poll this morning that asked this very question. It wasn’t the poll itself that piqued my interest but the comments that followed. The issue seems to be a hot button topic among parents and students and some of the posts really had me surprised! Students that said “no, cell phones shouldn’t be allowed” and parents saying “Yes, they should be!”


This is a head scratcher.

I’m having a hard time figuring out my own thoughts on this subject as I can think of many reasons for both the “for” and “against” arguments. And though I, as an educator, can think of many reasons to be against the idea, the reasons that fall into the “for” category are pretty solid. I came up with a list for both, rather than writing everything out here, I picked my top reasons and listed them below.


Mobile Bullying Devices- Bullying through mobile technology has changed the face of the act. There is the obvious methods like being able to text hurtful things to fellow classmates or having access to social networking or apps that allow you to communicate throughout the day. Unlike the traditional bullying of the past, kids today have access to one another 24/7- at home, in the halls, in class, at lunch, everywhere. Having access to their mobile technology during school hours allows them more opportunities during the day to bring bullying into the school environment.

Mobile Cheating Devices- This speaks for itself. With phones today we have the entire world of knowledge in the palm of our hands. I can’t say I haven’t been tempted on trivia nights to pull out my phone and Google the answer- I never have because the trivia master watches us like hawks! As a student the temptation to cheat is a very real thing. I’d be lying if I said I never used crib notes (cleverly written on my ankle just below the sock line)  but today there’s more access than ever before.  Teachers do the best they can to curb this behavior but those magical eyes we have on the back of our heads can only do so much!

Social Interaction-  Back in the days of the walkman (read: when I was in high school) we weren’t allowed to listen to music in the halls between classes or even during lunch. The reasoning is simple- we want you to interact with the people and the world around you. I may have hated it at the time but I can’t help agree with the idea now. Our teenage years are important for developing the social skills needed to get through the rest of our lives. It’s difficult to develop these skills with music blasting in your ears or your face buried in a phone.


This list is a lot longer than the one reason I’m listing below but it’s the biggest one I can think of.

Emergency- I can’t ignore recent or past tragedies that have occurred in schools or businesses around the world. I can’t ignore natural disasters. I can’t ignore that when we hear the news of a major, devastating event our first instinct it to get in touch with the ones we love who might have been affected. I was in Boston the day of the marathon bombings and my friends and family knew this. My phone went nuts within minutes of the news hitting the social networks. With mobile technology being something we all have, it’s natural that it’s our go to in the event of an emergency. If something is happening at your child’s school- you can get in touch with them directly. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

However, when it comes to other emergencies, I feel that a student being notified via text message by a parent or family member is the worst idea in the world. Here’s what I mean:

Not too long ago a friend of mine was killed in a car accident. I was on the road at the time and hadn’t checked social networks that morning. I was presenting to a group of students when I came to the point where I bring out my phone to make a point. While I had my phone out, a text came from another friend about the accident. I felt paralyzed. It was the worst thing in the world because I wanted to know more information but the show had to go on and I still had 45 minutes to finish. In this instance, I would have preferred a phone call with a voicemail asking for a call back.

Now imagine having to deliver similar news to your child. Or even just letting them know that a loved one is in the hospital. Imagine getting that text in the middle of class? They are going to panic.

For some reason people are against the idea of calling the school. In the event of this type of emergency, calling the school is the best thing you can do. They will handle calling the student out of class and letting them know what’s going on in a controlled, private setting. If possible, they will have a guidance counselor on hand to talk with them while they wait to be picked up or to receive more information.

In The End

I feel like this argument is one that will never be settled. There are many schools of thought on this subject and each argument both for and against make perfect sense to me. I think the most important thing that can be done is that both parents and educators set expectations and standards for the use of this technology.

I’m also a big fan of anyone under 18 getting what I like to call a “dumb phone.” If the purpose of our kids having phones is to be able to stay connected in the event of an emergency, then let’s eliminate apps, web browsing, social networking from the equation. Give them a phone that makes calls and that’s it.

These are my thoughts on the topic. I’d love to know that ya’ll think! Feel free to share your comments!

Until next time,


Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.