College-cyber bullying, national concern

U-News Staff

When one thinks of bullying, one may imagine a defenseless kid rushing to his bike after school to avoid a group of tough tyrants. Rarely is bullying thought of in a university environment.

In November 2012, the International Bullying Prevention Association sponsored a conference in Kansas City, with a session specifically about bullying on college campuses.

Former board member for the UMKC Women’s Center, Trish Madsen, M.S., is now a community educator who has specialized in bullying prevention for 14 years, speaking to more than 80,000 students, parents and teachers.

Some college-age bullying happens through hazing in fraternities and sororities, but much occurs online via social media.

“My theory is ‘the more you play, the more you pay,’ which I think helps [students] connect usage with risks,” she said. “Everything they put out there—online or through their phones—is public and permanent. Forgetting this can have long-term consequences.”

Madsen also worries that obtaining social abilities online “can take away the skills—eye contact, posture, small talk, assertive voice—they need to interact with each other socially later in life—job interviews, jobs themselves, interacting in public—but it also creates a social awkwardness that some ‘remedy’ through drinking when they are faced with social events during college.”

UMKC sophomore business administration major Chris Hailey agrees that communication skills suffer as a result of too much time online.

“It seems that individuals now have deviated from physical conversations with other people and become more content with carrying out their interactions through electronic devices,” he said. “And with easy access to social media at any time and nearly any device, cyber-bullying and social stalking have definitely surpassed being carried out from a home computer.”

Michelle Foster, UMKC Urban Education Research Center Executive Director, thinks that cyber-bullying allows students to avoid consequences. Bullies do not always physically see their victim’s pain when they post harsh comments or aggressive material online.

“These sites provide a certain amount of cover for students,” Foster said. “Those who engage in it would be afraid to confront those whom they easily torment via social media in person or face-to-face.”

In addition to the lack of physical confrontation on social media sites,  Elaine Spencer-Carver, Ph.D., Director of Field Education, believes there may be motives that are rooted deeper within the bully.

When children have been victimized or witness violent, abusive behavior at home, they tend to model that behavior. Spencer-Carver indicated that people who are exposed to aggression may bully more vulnerable peers in order to feel control or dominance.

“We learn what we live,” Spencer-Carver said. “It’s also a way that we deal with feeling powerless.”

Bullies have more outlets for contacting and victimizing others with the advancement of technology and use of the internet.

“Students often bully those who are different from whatever they deem is the norm,” Foster said. “So bullying can be aimed at newcomers, gay, lesbian, or transgender youth, students who are thought to be geeks or nerds, immigrant students or those with an accent, or how attractive students are thought to be.”

Daniel B. Weddle,  Ph.D., clinical professor of law and Director of Academic Support, and Jeff Traiger, Ph.D., Assistant Dean of Students, presented evidence based on a 2004 study confirming more than 60 percent of 1,025 undergraduate students have observed a college student bullied occasionally or frequently.

Bullying in graduate professional schools is prevalent due to their highly competitive nature and social cohesion is often less valued than performance. Pressures are intensified because success is highly rewarded and admired. Students experience insecurity and emotional vulnerability within the first year, and are virtually unsupervised beyond class.

About 62 percent of the graduate students surveyed reported experiencing peer mistreatment behavior almost daily or weekly.

Approximately five percent reported experiencing insults about sexual orientation almost daily or weekly.

About 14 percent reported experiencing insulting postings directed at a specific person on Facebook or other websites.

“Some of the media sites aimed at college students have had to tighten their regulations because users were able to anonymously post verbally abusive comments about the characteristics of other students,” Foster said.

Facebook incorporates a policy about bullying in its terms and conditions, featuring a video, frequently asked questions, and support links.

But Hailey’s not buying it.

“The only consequence that results from cyber-bullying or stalking is that offenders have to create new profiles because their last one was banned or deleted,” he said. “Social media sites need to do more.

There are dangerous effects for students who are bullied, including stress-induced physical ailments such as chest pains, headaches and sleep disorders.

“I think that it is far more prevalent than many realize because of how much social media has begun to dictate our lives,” Hailey said. “Without proper awareness and due justice, this problem will only become worse.”

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