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Workplace Bullying

When Bullies Go to College


Mar 03, 2014

When Bullies Go to College

We like to think of bullying as a schoolyard failing, something that only little kids do because they’re immature, and they naturally grow out of it. But this is far from the case. Statistics show that bullying is very common on campus. Of college students:

  • 15% report being bullied
  • 25% report being cyber-bullied
  • 42% report witnessing bullying

If you don’t see it, it’s not because it isn’t happening, it’s because bullies have honed their craft and learned better how to pick their victims, keep their victims under control, recruit allies, and even use the system to help them.

A Moral Obligation—and More

When you think about the statistics and realize just how many people on your campus are likely suffering daily with this type of abuse, you know something has to be done.

These statistics for bullying in college are almost the same as for workplace bullying, showing that if we don’t find it and stop it in college, it may become a lifetime occupation. And as a result, victims will suffer emotional harm, physical harm, and lose their jobs.

But the obligation to act is more than just moral, it’s a legal obligation as well.

  • Title IX prohibits harassment or discrimination based on sex.
  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act provides similar protections on the basis of race, color, and national origin.
  • Harassment on the basis of disability is prohibited by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Under these overlapping protections, it is likely that you are legally required to respond to many instances of bullying taking place on your campus.

Identifying Bullying

Bullying takes many forms, which become subtler as bullies become more sophisticated. The forms of bullying increase with new technologies, but may include:

  • Physical attack
  • Damage or theft of property
  • Threats
  • Verbal abuse
  • Shunning or social exclusion
  • Staring or glaring
  • Stalking
  • Creating or spreading rumors

These behaviors can be done in person or via cyberspace. Bullies may use social media platforms to attack victims, often creating false profiles or identities to create a virtual gang to overwhelm victims. Digitally altered images and harmful messages can be spread quickly with social media pages or anonymous websites.

The goal is to cause a reaction, such as pain, hurt feelings, fear, isolation, or humiliation.

Identifying Victims

Studies show that bullies have often spent years in their role, and get better at picking their victims. Although schoolyard victims tend to be people who are already different, who are marginalized or isolated, as bullies get older, they may turn their anger against people with talent, popularity, and skills that inspire jealousy. Bullies know why they choose who they choose, but it’s harder for us to identify them.

It’s not just students that are victims of bullies. Sometimes faculty or staff can be victims of contrapower harassment from students.

If you’re lucky, a victim may come forward with reports or concerns. In most cases, though, it’s up to you to look for the signs of bullying:

  • A decline in academic performance or participation
  • Decreasing morale or depression
  • Absenteeism
  • More frequent physical or psychological illness or symptoms
  • Anger, acting out, or sudden behavioral problems
  • A sudden tendency toward violent words, thoughts, or actions
  • Expressing a desire to drop out or actually dropping out

Although your first tendency may be to discipline the victim, it’s important to understand the source of these behaviors in order to act appropriately.

Bullying Affects Everyone

Although the immediate victim bears the brunt of the bully’s attacks, the effects ripple out through your campus, affecting everyone.

  • Onlookers often suffer lifelong guilt for not intervening.
  • People who see bullying live in fear of becoming victims.
  • Fear of victimization decreases participation rates in everything from classroom discussion to intramural activities.
  • Campus atmosphere and reputation may suffer.

In particular, since the outcome of bullying can often be violence to self and others, there is a possibility that a failure to respond to bullying will lead to serious implications for your campus.

Action Is the Only Acceptable Answer

If you want to protect your students, your staff, your faculty, and your campus from the consequences of bullying, it’s important that you take immediate action.

Here are some immediate steps you can take:

Create a Policy and Educate: If you don’t already have a policy on intimidating, abusive, and disrespectful behavior, establish one. Make sure that students, staff, and faculty understand their rights and responsibilities under the policy. Use both targeted channels to deliver the information and general information campaigns to ensure everyone has access to the information.

Maintain a Culture of Trust and Accountability: Make reporting bullying an essential part of your campus culture. This means that people who do report bullying should never fear reprisals, and people who do not report bullying suffer real consequences.

Teach Recognition of Bullying Behavior: Staff and students should be able to recognize the warning signs of bullying, and how to identify the bully and the victim.

Empower Intervention: Let faculty and students know what intervention is encouraged and appropriate.

Create Safe and Anonymous Reporting Outlets: Let people know that they can share what they know without having to come forward to confront the bully.

Respond to Reports: Reporting outlets are useless if you don’t respond to them. Timely response will encourage reporting, squash bullying, and prevent escalation.

Support the Victim: Victim blaming takes many forms, and none of them are productive. Encourage both formal and informal support networks. Make counseling available. Provide academic support to help the victim recover.

Counsel and/or Discipline the Bully: Bullies are often victims themselves. Help them understand why they bully and find more productive outlets. But also make sure that appropriate disciplinary action discourages future bullying.

Need Help Establishing an Anti-Bullying Campaign?

If you want to be sure that your campus isn’t helping bullies graduate to even worse forms of victimization, we can help. We will train faculty and staff on appropriate actions and legal requirements related to bullying.

Please contact Workplace Answers for help ensuring your campus remains a healthy educational environment.

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