Bullying issues continue into the college years for some students

Look for opportunities to talk with young people about bullying and harassment within campus settings.

While many adults are concerned about working to address issues of bullying within the lives of children and adolescents, there’s been less focus on having conversations with young people about bullying during the college years. As the college students in your life return home for visits over breaks or weekends, consider opening a dialogue about what they may be experiencing or noticing around them related to hurtful bullying behaviors.

College students who were part of a 2011 study conducted by Indiana State University researchers indicated that both face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying behaviors do continue to take place within college settings. Fifteen percent of the students reported being bullied, and 22 percent reported being cyber bullied through technology, including social networking sites, text messaging, email and instant messaging.

The authors of the study emphasized the need for universities and colleges to provide safe environments for students – an emphasis that was also stressed by the U.S. Department of Education officials during the 2011 White House Summit on Bullying. These officials also pointed out the importance of recognizing that different legal frameworks are afforded to young people once they reach age 18. Some behaviors that may have previously been labeled “bullying,” now involve both different legal protections and repercussions. In a 2010 communication to students in grades kindergarten through 12, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights also stressed the need for school staff and students to understand distinctions between bullying and bias-related harassment.

According to the January 2012 issue of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug and Violence Prevention, Prevention Update, most colleges and universities that have specific policies and programs related to bullying and cyberbullying address the problem within the context of harassment in general. For example, the Michigan State University  Anti-Discrimination Policy Handbook addresses issues of harassment involving any member of the university community, including faculty, staff and students. The policy provides protections related to age, color, gender, gender identity, disability status, height, marital status, national origin, political persuasion, race, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status and weight. If students within these groups are targeted with harassment behaviors that significantly affect their educational experience (such as offensive jokes, slurs, physical assaults or threats or intimidation), they can file a complaint with university officials for a formal investigation. Cases involving criminal conduct are immediately referred to the MSU Police Department. If an investigation determines that the university anti-discrimination policy has been violated, those carrying out the harassment behaviors may be subject to suspension or dismissal from the university.

Throughout their younger years, look for opportunities to have conversations with kids about the seriousness of these issues and the differences between bullying and harassment – and keep the conversations going once they’ve entered college and the workplace. Doing so will help better prepare them for understanding policies and protections around these issues – as well as their own roles and responsibilities for creating and contributing to safe relationships and settings.

For more on bullying, visit Michigan State University Extension’s bullying webpage.

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