As the digital age continues to manifest itself into more aspects of daily life, college students can veil themselves and bully their peers anonymously without repercussions, though victims are still left pained through the action.
Administrators and students at the University of Rhode Island are quick to say that bullying is a problem here. Assistant Director of Student Life Dr. Daniel Graney said that the majority of problems this year have stemmed from roommate conflict. In the past, they have included hazing or students being territorial. Bullying is also commonly found in situations where hierarchies exist such as fraternities, sororities and athletic groups.
Students learn about the effects of bullying throughout their primary education, and how being kind to one another is the only type of tolerated behavior. Once students reach secondary education, the attention of bullying on college campuses becomes less of a priority and reaching potential aggressors is more difficult.
“Cyber bullying is more of a problem than face-to-face bullying [in colleges],” said Graney. “Advancements in technology make it easier for people to remain anonymous.” Graney said that the stereotypical image of a bully who is popular, strong and physically aggressive is no longer the typical perpetrator.
Yik Yak, an anonymous social media app, where users can post anything they want including subjects in close proximity to them, aids the bullying problem where it protects its users and potential perpetrators by anonymity.
“Yik Yak is really dangerous,” said Graney. “It’s the newest reincarnation of juicy gossip sites. It’s like ratemyprofessor.com- a platform to say what you want with no consequences.”
The idea that college students can recreate themselves in this new stage of their lives can be a misconception. “Rhode Island is so small, you might be going to school with someone from your high school,” said Graney.
Student to student bullying is not the only kind that exists at URI. Graney said the Office of Student Life occasionally receives complaints of professor to student bullying. “We don’t hear a lot of that because of the control a professor can have on a student,” said Graney. He referenced graduate students often depend on their professors to pass their theses, so reporting the aggression might compromise that.
“It’s hard to get the word out,” said Garney about intangible issues such as bullying. “We let people know there are resources here. In terms of proactive, not much has happened yet, but we’re trying to change that.”
If a student at the University of Rhode Island is bullied, there are various outlets they can seek for support. Health Services and the Counseling Center work closely together with patients who have experienced bullying on campus.
Director of Health Services Ellen Reynolds said, “We are the medical side [of the situation], we potentially prescribe medication, but the counseling center does the talk therapy.” Reynolds said bullying cases are rare, but still prevalent in the URI community.
The Counseling Center, who aims at providing a safe space to any student, often sees people for symptoms such as anxiety, depression and vulnerability, which can stem from bullying.
Emilie Joseph, a graduate student trainee at the Counseling Center and a third-year clinical psychology doctoral student, said “There are negative consequences for bullies and consequences for bystanders who witness these [aggressions]. “
Researchers of bullying cited that almost 25 percent of college students have experienced bullying during their college education. Joseph studies she researched found that, “Students who are being bullied places them at risk for drinking.” Within a college setting, using drinking as a coping mechanism can lead to creating problematic drinking habits.
Joseph conducted a study on the URI student population on students’ multicultural competence, which has to do with one’s knowledge, skill and awareness of different cultural groups and identities. She found that people with a higher multicultural competence are more likely to defuse a bullying situation. “Bystanders can have a strong impact on bullying,” she said.
The Office of Student Life developed an Office of Civility group consisting of 25 to 30 mentors whose purpose is to spread their positivity and perform random acts of kindness around campus. Aside from the group, Garney said the Office of Student Life does some education around bullying behavior. Neither The Counseling Center, Health Services nor Student Life were able to quantify how many bullying cases they have assisted in.
The student-run organization is more than half way through their Civility Week, where each day focuses on prevalent issues on college campuses like mental health, body image and healthy relationships. Yesterday’s central point was anti-bullying.
Nick Pezzilo and David Drocic, both civility mentors since 2013, said that bullying is all across campus. The mentors often refer persons who experienced a bullying incident to Garney, who is then a mediator in certain cases.
“I see it as a sarcastic thing,” said Pezzilo. “Sometimes [people] don’t mean to hurt someone.” Graney agreed with this notion that occasionally people don not know where to draw the line between perceived bullying and down right, traditional bullying.
One Sunday at 3 a.m. last semester, Pezzilo, a member of Chi Phi, said somebody posted on Yik Yak: “Chi Phi hits girls”. Shortly after that, he said police ended up on their front lawn. Pezzilo said that it was a rumor and that it created an unnecessary mess. Although the allegation was found to be false, the incident is one of many that can never be traced back to its originator.
“People can hide behind a screen and just say what they want,” said Drocic.
Garney is not aware of any students who have left URI because of a bullying incident, but said it happens more frequently than they are informed. “Students might leave and [we may] never know why,” he said.
“It can be very hard to stay positive,” said Garney. “But at the same time it’s easy because there are really good people,” who work with him in his office, he said. His office is continuing to encouraging people to “think before they speak” through events and by word of mouth.