By Jules Banks
Bullying, the term used for intent to harm or intimidate another person, is an unfortunately common concept that almost all people have had involvement with throughout their lives. Common reasons for bullying are usually physical appearance, gender, sexuality, race, disability or religion, which creates a wide range of targets for bullies. However, quantifying exactly how many people are affected by bullying can be difficult. Some reports show that one-third of Americans face bullying at some point before high school graduation, while others place the statistic closer to one-fifth.
The best way to combat bullying is still debated in classrooms and in legislation to this day. Each state has its own laws and legislature in an attempt to stop bullying, with some being more severe than others.
One of the most common misconceptions, however, is believing that when a high school diploma is placed in a student’s hand, bullying disappears from their life. On the contrary, without the same sort of sharp eyes that homeroom teachers provide – and with the added stressors of blossoming adulthood and community living piled on – bullying can actually increase.
According to a survey called “Bullying Victimization Among College Students: Negative Consequences for Alcohol Use,” which was filled out by over 2000 midwestern college students, a shocking 43 percent of students had experienced bullying in college. More concerning still was that the study linked bullying to self-damaging behaviors such as binge drinking and possible alcoholism.
Andrew Roth, junior psychology major and 23rd floor resident assistant (RA), explained both the most common times accusations of bullying occur and why they happen when they do. He believed a lot of the problems stem from miscommunication early on in the year.
“At the beginning of the year, I think that’s the experience with most people, is that at the beginning of the year there are quite a bit of mediations, just because everyone’s just settling in. Everyone’s new to living with someone for the most part, and some people don’t even know who they’re living with…it can cause a lot of problems,” Roth said.
Reshma Rampersad, staff counselor at Roosevelt’s counseling center, believes there are many reasons for bullying as well, many stemming from intellectual disagreements and ingrained behaviors leftover from high school.
“Differing opinions – I think a lot of students come in wanting to express their own opinions, feeling that they are right, and then the argument ensues. And it is also a place where a lot of critical thinking is encouraged, so everybody has a particular opinion about the same issue. So that can happen,” said Rampersad.
“Being around individuals who have already sought out that kind of behavior, that combativeness, the ‘I need to be above you’ thing, the superiority – in those cases, sometimes bullying might be more common.”
The process for handling accusations of bullying, at least with residents on campus, begins with RAs. The first step, often considered the hardest one, is asking for help. Addressing issues on bullying in college comes with its own discrete stigma. Often, according to Rampersad, students feel as though they cannot speak out on others’ bad behavior due to a feeling of personal responsibility.
“It is more common than people think. It’s just a little bit quieter,” said Rampersad. “It’s almost like when you go into college, as an adult facing bullying, it’s different from a child facing bullying. It’s very common to face a child facing bullying, but an adult facing bullying, it almost feels like the adults needs to take care of that themselves.”
Now in his second year as an RA, Roth had seen issues with students being willing to come forward. “I definitely think there’s some sort of stigma. It’s not (that) they’re shy to talk to the RA, I think it’s more… they don’t want to be the tattletale,” Roth said.
Nora Harstford, sophomore jazz contemporary music major and RA for the 21st floor, explained that the best time to mediate is when explicitly requested.
“A good time to mediate is when you’re asked, basically. So when you’re asked by the party involved, or the office (Residence Life Office) asks you to do it,” Harstford said. “You never want to try to intervene unless there is consent to come into that space, or if you or someone else detects that there might be physical harm or some sort of emergency situation. That’s when you need to be there.”
This stresses the fact that although possibly uncomfortable, it is necessary for students to come forward with their issues as early as possible to help resolve the conflicts. If asking for help in person is too stressful for some students, not to worry: all the RAs must have at least one form of communication for their floor to be able to contact them. Harstford and Roth both gave their emails and phone numbers out to their respective floors – often, social media such as Facebook can be a way for RAs and floor residents to communicate as well.
The steps for mediation are strict but simple in theory, and practiced time and time again by RAs in training before they must encounter the real thing. Two weeks to a month before the RAs are set loose to lead, they learn BCD (Behind Closed Doors) training exercises to simulate situations they may encounter. Bullying is one of them.
The process varies from situation to situation, but it follows a similar pattern throughout: a student comes to an RA or Residence Life Office asking for help.”Ground rules” are laid out, specifying things such as the RA is to take notes on each students’ story, and how all language must be productive and aimed at the other students and not the mediator. One person is allowed to speak at at time. The other student writes down the comments of the other as they tell the story, writing down possible resolutions and ideas along the way.
“Most of our mediations involving stuff like this are more a guided conversation,” Harstford said. “We want to remain as out of it as possible while ensuring the safety of both parties is going to be there.”
Although mediation is proven to be helpful to both parties in a myriad of emotional and mental ways, it does not always resolve the conflict at hand. In that case, Roosevelt still has the tools to handle the situation. The original RA involved will generally come in for a second mediation attempt; if that fails, “pro-staff” or professional staff in Residence Life or Title IX will take over the case. The process attempts to resolve the issues in a way that allows for maximum safety for the victim or victims involved in the bullying. The sooner the process moves forward, the better, as bullying can damage a student’s mental health.
“I think everybody’s different on how they respond to bullying. Some may internalize it…some may externalize it, anger. It may even get, depending on how long, how much, what type, it may get to a point of a full blown mental health disorder. So it varies, depending on what they’re experiencing,” said Rampersad.
Rampersad encouraged students facing bullying at RU to find a support system, either through friends and family or the resources RU can provide.
“Most people have at least one person they can go to. The counselling center’s a really good place, you can always come in here if you feel that no one around you can understand. You can come to us, and we can help you process it, we can help you find the resources as necessary,” said Rampersad.