Assembly Panel OKs Diegnan Measure Pushing for Recognition of “Upstander” in Dictionary to Help Combat Bullying

An Assembly panel recently approved legislation (AR-226) sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. urging Merriam-Webster, Inc. and the Oxford University Press to include the word “upstander” in the dictionary to help boost awareness and combat bullying.

An upstander is an individual who chooses to take positive action in the face of injustice in society or in situations in which individuals need assistance.

“The word upstander has gained prominence in recent years because it can be used to describe so many inspiring people in this world,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “An upstander can be a person who stands up to any kind of injustice, especially bullying. More often than not, an upstander is standing up while most others sit down. Perhaps if we officially recognize this word, and make it part of our everyday vernacular, more people will become upstanders and not just bystanders.”

Earlier this year Oxford University Press placed upstander on Oxford’s new words watch list. Two recent graduates from Watchung Hills Regional High School have also started an online petition asking others to properly recognize upstanders and to support the movement to define upstander.

The word was first introduced in Samantha Power’s 2002 Pulitzer-Prize winning book, A Problem from Hell: America & The Age of Genocide, to describe a person who defied logic, risked their careers and lives, and spoke up on behalf of distant victims.

Last year, Superintendent Richard Labbe of the Sayreville School District drew national attention to the word upstander while addressing the locker room misconduct that led to the shut down of the Sayreville High School football program.

Additionally, non-profit organizations and educational institutions are increasingly using the word upstander in anti-bullying strategies to raise awareness of the term and what it means to be an upstander.

Diegnan noted that bullying incidents are more likely to occur in a school setting and student bystanders are often aware of bullying incidents before most adults in a school setting, with 71 percent of students disclosing that they have witnessed bullying at their respective schools. More than half of bullying incidents can be stopped when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied within ten seconds of the incident happening.

The measure was approved by the Assembly Education Committee, chaired by Diegnan, and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.