Bullying not just a school-aged phenomenon

When I think about bullying, my mind first jumps anywhere between elementary school and high school. The images that I first think of include bigger-student-on-smaller-student bullying and the typical stealing lunch money scenario or the cliche “meet me at the playground after school” situation. Although these situations are problematic, one stands out more than the other.

What I never thought of is the idea of bullying on a college campus, perhaps because it doesn’t get that much attention. Maybe this could be explained by the differing natures of bullying in school-aged versus college-aged individuals. Even the way the structures of K-12 schools and college campuses are set up could contribute to this discrepancy.

The next question I asked myself was, “Why?” It couldn’t be as simple as bullying just not existing on a college campus. What happened to the bullies in high school whose misdeeds went under the radar? Did they suddenly reform, or are they carrying out their activities in a more clandestine fashion? Maybe once bullies transition to college, they’re intimidated that they’re no longer at the top of the hierarchy.

On the other hand, some of these bullies might be more fluid in their abuse and can easily switch to other, more non-confrontational forms of abuse.

Although students in the K-12 range don’t always report incidents of cyberbullying, smaller class sizes may allow teachers to detect distraught students more easily especially since these teachers are more concerned with their students’ mental well-being than college professors can be. On college campuses with class sizes ranging anywhere from seven to 750 students, it’s almost impossible for professors to notice students who might be in trouble, and more importantly, it’s no longer the professor’s responsibility. Lack of staff and teacher involvement could contribute to decreased reports of bullying on college campuses.

Additionally, we can also look at the fact that in recent years, bullying has taken on new identities. It’s no longer just a black and white physical form of aggression. Peer harassment extends to cyberbullying, exclusion or other forms of passive-aggressive abuse. These forms of bullying that can occur over social networking sites, text messages or even emails are much more difficult to keep track of and record. Bullies who are too fearful to continue carrying out their activities in person can now take refuge behind a computer screen. Reporting these incidents depends on the victim either reporting the incident themselves or choosing to fill out a survey for research purposes.

Professors at Indiana State University realized that there was barely any research on college bullying and conducted a study across college campuses. They found that 22 percent of college students were cyberbullied and 15 percent experienced bullying in some other shape or form. This statistic might not seem staggeringly high; however, this study also found that 25 percent of children K-12 have been cyberbullied. When you compare the two proportions, the three percent difference doesn’t seem like that huge of a gap, so it is shocking to observe that the occurrence of cyberbullying across college campuses isn’t really significantly lower than the incidence of cyberbullying in K-12 schools. These numbers show that bullying is still an issue even beyond high school and, accordingly, deserves more attention and research.

Professors from Indiana State University speculate that there is a high possibility of even more bullying cases, but due to minimal research and students not coming forward, there is not much record of this kind of harassment.

Another study conducted by the University at Buffalo supports that 22 percent of college-aged students have been cyberbullied, and in addition, states that 18.5 percent of college students have experienced some type of bullying. Since a university in the Midwest and a university on the East Coast had consistent findings, it begs the question of whether other universities across America also had similar rates of bullying, or instances of bullying at all.

Luckily, most campuses including ours offer some kind of counseling service. These counselors can assist students with their immediate problems and recommend a range of services students can take advantage of. Also, students living in residence halls can turn to their resident advisors for help if they ever find themselves the victim of a bullying situation.

Bullying is a pervasive and serious issue, and the prevalence of it across universities is barely spoken of. An environmental change does not lead to a personality change. Bullies can adapt to torment students from afar and because of the advances of the digital age, they can also cloak themselves in the anonymity of social networking. While some universities are beginning to notice patterns of bullying that continue into college, more schools from different regions should begin carrying out their own research as well. Higher observance of these usually unreported cases would lead to more awareness and eventually more campus resources to deal with and prevent bullying.

Sehar is a junior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected]