University, Socialscape and… Bullying?


Ah, university life. The pinnacle of academic achievement, the epitome of intellectual growth, and the breeding ground for some of the most savage forms of social awkwardness and bullying. If you’re currently a student or a recent graduate, then you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Let’s start with the classic scenario: the first day of class. You walk into the lecture hall, feeling a little nervous but also excited to meet new people and learn new things. You sit down in a random seat, hoping that someone friendly will sit next to you. And then, it happens. You feel a tap on your shoulder, and when
you turn around, you’re greeted by a smug-looking student who says, “Uh, sorry, but you’re sitting in my seat.” Cue the awkward shuffling as you grab your stuff and move to another seat. But wait, there’s more. Let’s talk about group projects. You know, the ones where you’re assigned to work with a bunch of strangers who may or may not share your work ethic or enthusiasm for the project. You try your best to be a team player and contribute your ideas, but there’s always that one person who seems to take pleasure in shooting down your suggestions and taking over the entire project.

This doesn’t sound very humorous at all. It sounds pretty terrible, actually. Bullying and social exclusion are serious issues that can have a lasting impact on a person’s mental health and well-being. But sometimes, it helps to be able to laugh at ourselves and the ridiculousness of these situations. It helps to know that we’re not alone in experiencing these things, and that there’s always a way to find a community of people who will accept us for who we are.

“Bullying.” Not a word we associate with university, is it?

One thinks of junior high jerks, middle school meanies, preteen predators and tween tyrants; not an experience we expect to undergo when most of us are adults, physically and/or emotionally. Alas, the world is not so ideal, and with that we must deal.

In fact, bullying in university can take on a whole new level of sophistication. Instead of getting your lunch money stolen, you might find yourself the target of cyberbullying or social exclusion. And forget about getting a wedgie – now, bullies might spread rumours about you online or harass you in group chats. But let’s be real – college is supposed to be a time for learning and personal growth, not for feeling like you’re back in high school. So what can we do to prevent bullying on campus? First and foremost, it’s important to speak up if you see someone being bullied. Don’t just stand there and watch – intervene and offer support to the victim. You could even report the bullying to a university authority figure, such as a
professor or campus police officer. If someone’s words or actions make you feel targeted or unsafe, it’s best to report it to someone trained to deal with such events. It is an unfortunate cycle wherein most people tend to distance themselves from perpetrators in an attempt to avoid further toxicity; for the cycle continues unless consequences are imposed.

The University of Alberta Student Conduct Policy states:

  • Harassment is a single or repeated incident of objectionable, unwelcome or adverse conduct, comment, bullying or action by a person that the person knows or ought to reasonably know will or would cause offence or humiliation to another individual or adversely affects that individual’s health and safety, and includes conduct, comment, bullying or action because of race, religious beliefs, colour, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or otherwise.
  • Harassment includes bullying, which is a form of aggression that may include physical, verbal or emotional abuse. Bullying poisons the learning environment of the person it targets. It can include
    persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behavior which makes the individual feel threatened, humiliated and/or vulnerable.

Here are a few resources offered by the University of Alberta precisely for such situations:
Helping Individuals At Risk office
Counselling Services (Augustana Campus)
Bullying Helpline – If you are a victim of bullying or abuse, talk to trained staff in English or French. This anonymous service is available over the phone toll-free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-456-2323.

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