Bullying in Universities: It exists

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The Independent Online

We all know bullying occurs in children’s playgrounds, inside and outside of secondary schools and sometimes even in the adult workplace, but what about University?

This supposed sanctuary of like minded scholars has become just another place in which people compete with each other for respect and social order, and bullying has followed with it.

A psychologist specialising in bullying, harassment and inter-personal relationships, Dr. Pauline Rennie-Peyton, recognises the possibility of being bullied in all stages of life, and confirms University is no exception.

“If people are taken out of their element, they become children,” she says.

“The problem with Universities and Colleges is that if we’re not careful, students there also become children. Just because bullying in Universities is not talked about, it doesn’t mean it is not happening. I have students [come to me] and they have to deal with racism, sexual and even intellectual jealousy.”

She also believes one of the main reasons bullying is not reported at places of higher and further education is because students have a sense of distrust in their Uni’s services putting disciplinary procedures into action, and so there are probably a lot more cases than we even know.

“People don’t report their problems because they feel it will blow over by itself or because they lack a sense of confidence in the system,” she says.

“They feel nothing would be done about it. I haven’t got any statistics but I can imagine the figures [of those bullied at university] are higher [than we realise].”

Not only do students not want to report it to their educators but it seems they hide it from their friends and family too. It is difficult to find anyone willing to speak of their ordeal, maybe due to embarrassment or inability to self-admit, however a 21-year-old woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, did confide in me her bullying experience at Uni.

She, let’s call her Susan, left short of completing her first of a three-year Fashion degree at a well known London University because she was taunted by a team of girls.

“I have never been a girly sort of girl. Let’s face it; I’m alternative and different. I was used to some [bullying] in school, in my home town, but I thought being based in London would mean less judgment because it’s so accepting of different cultures.

“A popular girl on my course began making fun of my dress-sense, but I just laughed and brushed it off. This gradually became a ‘game’ to her and her friends and I started being ganged up on. I was given horrible looks and was made the source of most jokes. I was pushed, and they’d deliberately spill things on me waiting outside lectures.

“I couldn’t believe it was happening; it felt like school.

“Obviously I knew they were being immature, but experiencing it as a ‘grown-up’ was just as painful.”

Susan didn’t report the incident because she didn’t think the Uni would help her on what she thought was a juvenile matter. So after failing a few crucial assignments, when her confidence was at an all-time low, she realised just how unhappy she was because of bullying. It ruined her University experience and was the sole reason she gave-up on her degree.

“Not long after I found out the place I worked for part-time had a full-time post,” she continued.

“I applied and soon after being accepted for it I left Uni as quick as possible. I didn’t leave my course because I got the job. I applied for the job because I wanted to leave the course.”

I’m sure many students can relate to Susan’s ordeal, and so too can I, having been through my own as a studying adult at University.

An ex of my current partner found herself in a comfortable position when a group of her friends to begin ridiculing me about my appearance. I told him about it, of course, but I didn’t confront her or report it to anyone at my campus only because I knew how childish it would seem, nor did I want anyone to know it bothered me.

I tried hard within myself to be the bigger person by being polite to her when she was alone; hopefully leading her to believe her actions weren’t enough to faze me. But this gave her more cause to do it.

Perhaps the most hurtful part was that I’d never given her a direct reason not to like me, in fact, I still compliment her to others.

I did nothing to deserve it. I’m sure you’ll agree having a more prosperous relationship with this man than she did is no cause for actual bullying. I had confidence in this but it still affected my University life.

There is a social struggle, like secondary school, as many compete for popularity, especially on such a small, close-net campus. Everyone knows each other and so I have to see this girl everyday. I still worried, when approaching the building, whether she’d be there and whether she’d mock me.

In reflection, perhaps the most alarming thing is that I didn’t feel my University or Student Union was there to protect me. Like any work place, those in charge have a duty to care and look after students. We pay substantial fees after all.

But Worcester University’s Vice-President Michael Collins assures us systems are in place, at least at his school, to deal with such circumstances and they should be brought to attention.

“Our procedures are strong and can mean anything up to expulsion for anyone accused, and found guilty of bullying a student,” he confirmed.

“Bullying Sucks Day’ was a campaign run to help students understand what help and guidance was available to them.

“This day came about from the back of an NUS campaign run a few years ago with the same name, and we based it on that and adapted it to run a mini-campaign run on the same principles of respect and guidance.”

Despite this, Dr. Rennie-Peyton wants students to help themselves, especially if they feel their University is doing nothing.

“Don’t keep it to yourself. Keep a diary of the events; when, where, who were the witnesses, what time it happened, the impact it had on you and then take it further to members of staff – and if they’re not prepared to do anything about it, take it to the principle.

“All bullying is about impact, not about intention; if someone is upset by it, it is not a joke.”