Bullying is Not Just a Kid Problem

Bullying is Not Just a Kid Problem Cyberbullying Research Center

Cyberbullying among university students has been in the media a lot lately, with a particular emphasis on newer anonymous apps like Yik Yak and Burnbook. Last fall I wrote a post for my university’s Medium blog on the topic of bullying among college students. I thought I would re-post it here for those who may be interested:

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. For most of us, the term “bullying” likely conjures images of pre-pubescent boys pushing each other on the playground or teenaged “mean girls” spreading hateful rumors in the hallways. And while most of the fanfare this month is focused on primary and secondary schools and their students, bullying remains an issue of concern among college students as well. We don’t typically use the term “bullying” when referring to these behaviors as they occur between those over the age of 18, but whether we’re talking about harassment, hazing, intimidation, stalking or other manifestations of interpersonal harm, the consequences on a college campus can be quite significant.

University of Wisconsin-River Falls straight-A student Alyssa Funke took her own life this past spring after enduring harassment online after it was revealed that she had appeared in a pornographic video. Three San Jose State University freshmen were suspended from school and charged with hate crimes last year when they bullied their black roommate. And perhaps the most recognizable name when it comes to the potential repercussions of peer mistreatment on college campuses is Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi. In 2010, Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after he found out that his roommate and a friend had secretly recorded an intimate encounter he had with another man (and posted about it online). While his was an extraordinary case for many reasons, it thrust the issue of cyber-harassment among university students into the limelight (particularly as it related to LGBTQ students).

There is surprisingly little research available when it comes to the bullying experiences of university students. A study published in 2004 found that approximately 25% of college students had been bullied by another student (though only about 1% said it happened “very frequently”). A 2010 study found that 22% of students had been cyberbullied while in college. Research also suggests that those who were bullied at earlier points in their life are at a greater risk for experiencing bullying as a college student. Finally, a 2013 report produced by the American Educational Research Association points out that bullying among faculty and staff is also a serious, yet often overlooked problem. While more research certainly is necessary to better understand the nature and extent of harassment within a university setting, it is clear that these behaviors are impacting the quality of life on campus.

Depending on the circumstances, students or staff who mistreat others could be charged with criminal or civil rights offenses. In Wisconsin, for example, it is a misdemeanor for someone to use “computerized communication systems” to “frighten, intimidate, threaten, abuse, or harass another person.” It is also against the law to “harass, annoy, or offend another person.” Federal law provides for serious sanctions when harassment is motivated by bias or animosity toward another person’s race, religion, national origin or sexual orientation (as was arguably the case in Tyler Clementi’s case). In addition, many universities also have policies and procedures concerning these behaviors which could result in discipline or even removal.

We should, of course, promote productive dialog about challenging and even controversial issues, but these discussions and debates must occur within a civil and respectful climate. We should never attack anyone personally (physically, emotionally, psychologically, or otherwise) or force someone to do something that they do not want to do. We should stand up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves, keeping in mind that we are all in this together. We should embrace diversity (in all of its forms) for its ability to change us for the better. In short, there is a lot that each and every one of us can do to prevent bullying from negatively impacting where we work, live, and learn. Acknowledging that bullying is not just a problem relegated to the playground is perhaps the first step. What you do next to combat cruelty on your campus is up to you.


  1. I really think it is so sad and disturbing that cyberbullying has gone so far. People are intentionally hurting others for their own enjoyment. That is sick and wrong. It’s also a shame that we have come so far in time in terms of discrimination, yet with cyberbullying, I feel as if we are slipping backwards rather than taking steps forwards.

  2. I,know somebody, who bullies me , on facebook, other social network sites. When , i try to apply for jobs, they , try to steal my cv’s /passwords& recently i have had ,alot of bogus, scam calls trying to send me to interviews that don’t exist .
    Also, this person , on facebook, keeps on writing lible about me / & slandering me at night unfortunately i know who they are & she has tried to hack into my pc on numerous occassions! This has cost , my health my confidence & social life , i am too scared to go , on facebook, twitter or chat / i will not have Skype , in case i see her ugly haunting face again !

  3. I understand cyber-bullying has become a more prevalent form of bullying with the increase of mobile devices and social media outlets. Its neither age nor sex specific, although “Girls were significantly more likely to be cyber bullied, especially by text messages and phone calls, than boys. (Smith, Madhavi, Carvalho, & Tippett, 2006, p. 2). I would like to present two important issue i think relate to this problem. First, we should be teaching our kids at an early age about bullying and how to deal with it. If we teach them to not let it get under their skin its less likely to continue. If the bully gets no response from his or her action its less fun for them. we should teach our kids a lesson from a biblical time, one that can be found in Matthew 5 ” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. The second important lesson i think we should teach our kids is also the importance of standing up for themselves. Im not saying be the first to throw a punch, but kids need to know that standing up for themselves is ok, and sometimes its all it takes to stop a group of bullies from continuing. Look at the example of David vs. Goliath. After David killed Goliath, the philistines ran from the Israelites in fear that they would all be next.
    Obviously bullying is wrong, but i don’t think that its going to stop anytime soon, so we should teach our kids at a young age how to combat it as successfully as possible.

    Reference:Smith, P., Madhavi, J., Carvalho, M., & Tippett, N. (2006). An investigation into cyber bullying, its forms, awareness and impact, and the relationship between age and gender in cyber bullying (RBX03-06). Retrieved from http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130401151715/http://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/RBX03-06.pdf

  4. Unfortunately, we as a society think that as you age in years you age in maturity. Just because someone is an 18-21 year old in college, it does not mean that that person is at all mature and able to handle feelings of inadequacy which is where bullying comes into effect. The fact that these people are doing it anonymously through the veil of the internet is that much more troubling. We are a nation that needs to take hold of our youth, give them confidence so that they will not feel the need to ridicule others and if they are taunted, they should have the emotional fortitude to combat it. It is a true statement to say that words do hurt, but we need to teach our youth which words hurt. Is the person that you are hearing them from someone who cares about you and wants you to succeed? If not, then they are meaningless. As for the person who is above and is cyber bullied, you should contact local authorities to find out who is doing this to you so that the harassment will stop.

  5. Bullying on college campuses also occurs in the classroom, I am currently enrolled in college and there are some very cruel/crude people in my classes, they have learned that cyber bullying leaves evidence and now prefer to pick people apart in hallways, bathrooms, & even in classrooms.

    I wish the school would implement a reporting program but they seem to be in denial about the issue, despite the articles in the local (& even the school) paper to the contrary.

    • This is a great point, and I completely agree, Amanda. While we haven't studied bullying on college campuses, we anecdotally hear that it absolutely occurs. To be honest, universities would do well to engage in a few prevention strategies like a reporting program. Otherwise, victimization will happen, and it will make the news, and the university will struggle reputationally and fiscally. I'd encourage you to contact a Board of Trustee member at your university and convey your concerns. Students need to feel safe, or they will take their tuition money elsewhere.

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