HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A Huntsville High School student is speaking out after one of his classmates committed suicide.
Senior Joseph Vivian is an openly gay student and said he’s seen administrative inaction on bullying in the school.
Freshman Nigel Shelby died by suicide on April 18. He was a member of the LGBTQ community and his mother said he struggled with mental health issues and bullying.
Vivian said he didn’t know Shelby personally, but the culture of the school did not help him.
“The way this school treats the people of our community is not acceptable. They turn victims into perpetrators and blame them for being bullied,” Vivian said.
“I’ve gone to administration, I’ve gone to counselors. They blame you for the problems that you face, sometimes they even put in there that it’s your choice, that you’re too sensitive, that if you’re going to live this lifestyle that you’ll have to grow thick skin."
He said he did not think the staff and administrators were equipped to handle the bullying of LGBTQ students, questioning if they’re “ignorant” or “indifferent."
WAFF 48 News requested an interview with Huntsville High School administrators. District spokesman Keith Ward said no administrators were available.
Ward said the district could not discuss any specific bullying or administrative response due to student privacy law.
Ward did send the following statement:
“The district has several resources in place to tackle prejudice, bullying and inter-group conflict including PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) to teach and recognize positive behavior, No Place for Hate anti-bias & diversity education, and Peer Helper programs. School counselors provide lessons to educate and promote awareness, along with encouraging HCS employees to lead by example and provide support if they seen bullying. The district has online tools on each school’s website to report any concern, including bullying, via “Anonymous Alerts” or “Bullying Report” forms. Administrators at the school and district level are immediately notified in order to take prompt action. In addition, there are consequences for students outlined in our Behavioral Learning Guide who are found to engage in bullying.”
Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Christie Finley addressed Shelby’s death at Monday school board session.
She said in part:
“I visited Huntsville High School on Friday, and I can tell you Nigel was loved by his classmates, his teachers and his administrators. But I do want to say in the time of loss in our community, I am reminded of the calling to treat one another as you want to be treated, but these are really only words until we all believe and act in unity,” she said.
Huntsville High School Principal Aaron King posted the following message on the school PTSA Facebook page:
"Dear Parents and Guardians:
We were saddened to learn this morning of the death of Nigel Shelby, one of our 9th grade students. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time.
Many students have been affected by this news. Teachers and specially trained counselors have talked with students about Nigel and their feelings. Please be sensitive to any changes in your child’s behavior. Over the next few days, encourage your child to express his or her feelings and listen attentively.
It will be helpful to recognize the various steps we will go through in the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some of the common reactions that children experience when reacting to a traumatic event are:
- Restlessness, nervous behavior
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping, nightmares
- “Clingy” behavior, fear of being alone
- Asking questions over and over again
- Remembering previous losses and events
If you have any concerns regarding your child’s reactions to this loss, feel free to contact any of your child’s teachers, the school counselor, or our administrative staff.
Thank you for your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.
Aaron King, Ed.S
Principal Huntsville High"
Vivian said the school does address mental health issues in its classes, but falls short of giving students the tools they need.
“There’s no talk about where to get help, there’s no talk about how to help yourself, help others," he said.
He said he was not aware of Huntsville City Schools’ mental health counselor program.
The Trevor Project is a national organization that works to improve the mental health of LGBTQ youth through education, support and training.
Communications Director Kevin Wong said LGBTQ youth are more than four times at risk of suicide, and children of color take their lives at twice the rate of white children.
Wong said in an email “The Trevor Project has supported over 600 crisis contacts in Alabama. As shocking as that is, that’s less than 5% of the number of Alabama’s LGBTQ youth who we estimate could use our services.”
He said being a supportive figure in an LGBTQ youth’s life can make a big difference.
“We know from research at the Trevor Project that one supportive person, just one, can reduce an LGBTQ young persons risk for suicide by up to 30 percent. So creating those LGBTQ inclusive environments for everyone can be a life saver especially in schools.”
He said it’s important to talk with youth about how it’s okay to discuss suicide ideation and mental health.
The Trevor Project can be contacted via
- It’s 24/7 Hotline- 1-866-488-7386
- It’s 24/7 text line- (Text ‘Start’ to 678678)
- It’s 24/7 online chat