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Bullying in College: We’re Vulnerable at Any Age

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Bullying has—unfortunately—come a long way from kids getting picked on at the elementary school playground and middle schoolers being snubbed from the “popular” table in the lunchroom.

Students of all ages and backgrounds can and have been victims of bullying. Even college students are susceptible to bullying, and “acceptable” activities like hazing only add fuel to the fire.

What is Bullying?

Bullying can take many different forms. It can be done in person or through technology, which is usually called cyberbullying. A bully uses his or her power to control or harm someone else, and does it repeatedly—it’s not a one-time deal. It’s often dismissed as a normal, a phase that kids go through. But in reality, bullying is harmful because it can cause children and teens to feel scared or even afraid to go to school. It can even cause victims to take drastic steps like self harm or to react violently.

“Traditional” bullying is any type of unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a power balance—and it doesn’t matter if it’s real or perceived. Bullying can include physical aggression, like pushing and shoving or beating someone up. It can also involve verbal abuse, such as making fun of someone or making embarrassing information about that person public. (Think spreading nasty rumors around school or campus.) Bullying can be done by one person or a group or people.

Cyberbullying is done through electronic devices like cell phones and computers. Cyberbullies use text messages, the Internet, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to send cruel text messages or post embarrassing pictures of their victims. People who are cyberbullied are often bullied in person, too.

College Bullying

Research conducted by professors at Indiana State University (ISU) found that bullying and cyberbullying do not stop in college. Their 2011 study found that 22% of college students surveyed reported being cyberbullied while 15% reported being bullied.

Although most college students are considered adults due to their age, Bridget Roberts-Pittman, assistant professor of counseling at ISU attempted to clarify why bullying continues at the college level: “…is an 18-year-old senior any different than an 18-year-old college freshman?”

The death of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi in 2010 brought national attention to both cyberbullying and bullying in college. The Rutgers University freshman’s roommate, along with a hall mate from their dorm building, used a webcam to record a sexual encounter between Clementi and another male. After Clementi’s roommate spread the news of Clementi’s sexual preference and the recording itself, the gay teen committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge.

Who is Bullied?

Absolutely anyone—male or female—can be picked on, made fun of, harassed, or bullied in a variety of other ways, but some groups are more susceptible to bullying than others. People who are bullied are often different from their bully or their entire peer group. For example, they may:

  • Be overweight or underweight
  • Be a new student in school or on campus
  • Be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered (LGBT) or perceived as such by others
  • Wear glasses or clothes that others deem nerdy / unfashionable
  • Have fewer friends than the bully does
  • Are disabled, depressed, or suffering from low self esteem

Hazing is Also Bullying

Hazing, which commonly occurs even though it is outlawed most campuses, is another prevalent type of bullying in college. Just as bullying is often brushed off as “normal,” many people consider hazing a rite of passage; a way to prove loyalty to an organization such as a fraternity, sorority, or sports team. It often involves illegal actions, excessive alcohol consumption, physical abuse, and more.

According to Hazing Prevention, hazing is any action or situation that:

  • Is taken out on members or a group or team, regardless of whether or not they are new members
  • Intentionally causes embarrassment and/or ridicule
  • Does not matter whether or not participants are willing
  • Can cause emotional and/or physical harm

Several tragic hazing incidents have made national headlines in recent years, including:

  • The death of Robert Champion, a Florida A&M University drum major who died after a hazing incident in which he was beaten to death
  • Hazing involving sexual assault at an Ohio Wesleyan University fraternity
  • Eight sailors who were discharged from the U.S. Navy after choking one of their comrades in a hazing ritual

Being Bullied or Know Someone Who Is?

If you or someone you know is being bullied at school or college, seek help to Take Immediately before things get even worse. Bullying is not acceptable behavior. Report what is happening to a parent, teacher, professor, school principal, college dean or other administrator. If you are being physically assaulted or violently threatened, report the bullying to law enforcement.

If you’re being cyberbullied, don’t respond to the comments or forward them to anyone else. Make sure you keep the texts, images, messages, status updates, blog posts, and any other online bullying incidents. Save and print screen shots to use as evidence.

Related Posts:

College Hazing Causes Physical, Psychological Damage

College Bullying: Harassment on Campus

Searching for Gay Friendly Colleges


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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Taylor combs over 5 years ago Taylor combs

Bullying needs to end many people get hurt by this and do taribail trouble