Unisurvival – Beat the bullies


Andrew Dubber invited me to be one of a team of academics writing for UniSurvival which delivers common-sense advice to students about everything from time management to drugs to how to drop out. Worth a read as well is Tim Wall’s piece on why how you think is more important than what you think.

I’m well-chuffed to be writing for it and I’ll avoid cross posting in future but this is my first piece which was about bullying:

bully pic
The daughter of a friend of mine had a bad time at her school. She was misunderstood by the teachers and bullied by a small group of fellow students. The former she dealt with by producing excellent work and getting good results – an ‘I’ll show ’em’ attitude – the latter proved a bit more complex to deal with and left her upset and withdrawn.

The solution was to move away from the problem, to another school. Now, a couple of years down the line she’s moving on again, to start her Uni life. But all she can think of is what if it happens again? What if the Uni bully finds me out and puts me through three years of hell?

Bullying isn’t just something that happens to kids of course. Adults in the workplace can be as vicitimised as schoolchildren in the playground. So what about the university campus? My immediate reaction on talking to my friend’s daughter was to reassure her that Uni life is simply a world away from school.

In the 10 years I’d been lecturing the most striking aspect of student behaviour was how they group themselves into cliques rather than act as predatory bullies. At worst students feel a sense of isolation but I couldn’t recall a single case of bullying that had been brought to my attention. But that isn’t quite the full picture.

The campus has its bullies just like anywhere else. In fact 63 per cent of respondents to a recent NUS bullying survey responded that they have been bullied or are being bullied right now. It may be less prominent and perhaps less physical than in the playground but then bullying often is. It might be attacks on your looks, clothes, sexuality or race but if you’re simply finding yourself on the end of constant criticism and nit-picking with your contributions being trivialised or undermined then you may well be being bullied. And it may not be just your fellow students who are dishing it out. Academics themselves can often be the perpetrators (or indeed the victims).

So how do you deal with it? Recognising it is the first step. Seek support in family, friends or your student union welfare officer – people will be sympathetic and responsive. Being assertive can often work in certain situations. Be direct with the person who is bullying you, they may not realise the effect it’s having on you.

Of course you may be reading this from the other side of the fence. Maybe you’re the one doing the bullying? If so then it’s time to take stock and consider the impact of the pain you’re inflicting on others. You may need some support yourself. If so, the advice is the same – family, friends, support workers. Talk to them, they can help you out.

Above all, whether you’re the bullied or the bully, understand that it needs to be dealt with. University is preparation for the life ahead of you and a better time than any to break whichever cycle you’re trapped in – victim or perpetrator.

Pic from Flickr by Steve Fernandez