Bullying is not fun, or funny: It’s fundamentally harmful

Book that says 'stop bullying' on the front

Anti-bullying week takes place this year from 16-20 November 2020. This year the theme is ‘United Against Bullying‘. Follow the events on social media using #antibullyingweek and #abw20

A quick web-search reveals that there is much focus and activity on this issue in primary and secondary schools during Anti-Bullying Week, yet there is very little on display on the websites of universities and colleges of higher education. So, are universities and HE colleges doing much ‘in-house’? How can you help your colleagues in schools and colleges to counter bullying there?

Bullying behaviour can be very subtle, or it can be most blatant and visible. It can be: physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, online /cyber, indirect. Banter becomes bullying when it is:

  • intended to insult and humiliate the other person
  • if it becomes regular and persistent
  • even after they have asked someone to stop, it continues.

Students who are bullied may:

  • feel disconnected from university and not want to attend or even quit
  • have lower academic outcomes, including lower attendance
  • lack quality friendships
  • display high levels of emotion that indicate vulnerability and low levels of resilience
  • avoid conflict and be socially withdrawn
  • have low self-esteem
  • become depressed, anxious and lonely
  • have nightmares
  • feel wary or suspicious of others
  • in extreme cases, have a higher risk of self-harm and/or suicide.

Research shows that students at all levels of education get bullied. Longer-term effects of earlier bullying can be very negative on the self-esteem and self-worth of students, and be re-experienced and reinforced in their higher education student experience.

Otherwise advice and resources on bullying are very much schools-based, but may have some relevance, be thought-provoking for university and college staff:

Students from particular backgrounds or with certain characteristics are much more likely to be bullied. A 2016 survey, Pride and Prejudice in Education by The Forum, UCU, Learning and Work Institute, NUS and Equality Challenge Unit, found that Gay/lesbian (13 per cent) and non-binary (16 per cent) learner respondents were more than twice as likely than average (6 per cent) to say that they had considered leaving their education because of the way they were treated, with over 50% of LGBTQ students having experienced homophobic or transphobic name-calling. Name-calling and threats were the highest form of bullying. Furthermore, the extent to which university students can be harrassed for their regional or working-class sounding accents was recently exposed.

Outside of the national anti-bullying week universities clearly have anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies and guides usually signposting to student services support; here are a few, sort of random but interesting illustrative examples:

For a more comprehensive and current analysis of Student and Anti-Bullying Policies in universities and colleges see the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management research article, ‘Student anti-bullying and harassment policies at UK universities’ (Harrtison, Fox, and Hulme, 2020). This article provides the first analysis of all available UK university anti-bullying policies, summarising, comparing, and contrasting the content of policies acquired from university websites. The importance of anti-bullying policies is known from policy research in schools and workplaces but has previously not been investigated in Higher Education. A new coding framework and guidelines were developed to enable the analysis, and universities were given a score. Scores indicated variation between policies, suggesting some students may have inadequate support when consulting their university policy. The findings indicate that all universities should create and implement an anti-bullying policy. Students should be involved in the development of interventions or policies, as co-created initiatives may be more influential. University policy must be up-to-date, inclusive, comprehensive yet concise, and it must be publicised

Though not directly addressed here, bullying and harassment of staff in HE and FE also takes place all too often, but your University and College Union has a ‘Bullying and Harassment Toolkit’ designed to cover this issue. Or if you are a UNISON member, ‘Bullying and Harassment’. And, of course, universities and colleges have their own bullying and harassment policies and protections.

Andrew Rawson is FACE Treasurer and Director of Action on Access

Photo by Dee @ Copper and Wild

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *