Reflection and Response – Anti-Bullying Approaches

When we say bullying, it usually conjures up images of middle and high school students engaging in some very aggressive behaviour which leaves victims scarred for life. Bullying has reached epidemic proportions, unfortunately now very prevelant in the political realm. Social media has contributed to its spread and has even modified the way bullying plays out in social, educational and political spheres.

Higher education campuses are not exempt from this troubling phenomena. However, there is not much research done to show the specific ways in which bullying is experienced in universities and colleges and so bullying is often seen as prevalent only in middle and high school.

This issue, we wanted to ask the MIIS community about whether anti-bullying policies would be beneficial to our campus. Read through some of the articles and arguments below, and then let your voice be heard by answering this poll.

What is Bullying?

  • Any form of verbal or physical behaviour with the intention to hurt that causes another pain or discomfort.
  • Bullying can be covert or overt. Covert bullying is often meant to isolate the victim socially.
  • Use of digital media is a new tool now used to anonymously and from a distance bully anyone either covertly (only the victim is aware) or overtly.

To learn more about the different types of bullying, visit the National Center Against Bullying, Don’t Stick It, or PREVnet websites.

Bullying and Power Relationships

  • Bullying is often understood as happening in the context of power dynamics especially in higher education. Someone with more power dominates or behaves aggressively towards someone who has less power.
  • Contra-power bullying is less researched and talked about but is now beginning to get attention. This is when bullying is done by someone who has less power in the traditional sense to someone who is viewed with more power. For example, a student bullying a faculty member or an employee bullying their employer.

How is a bullying culture created and maintained?

There are many reasons why bullying might go unchecked but here are some reasons that could apply in many institutions of higher learning:

  • Bullying behavior is normalized and unchallenged by community members.
  • Reports of bullying are minimized and ignored by community members often due to lack of courage or the belief that since it is happening to someone else, it is not important to speak up. (e.g.,It is not my business.)
  • There is a lack of policies and procedures to deal with the bullies, or existing policies are too vague to provide direction.
  • Bullying behavior is rationalized by offenders as humor or some other form of expression, but not seen as discriminatory.

Here is an interesting article that discusses the Abuse of Power by adults towards children in an educational setting, but their key points are applicable in all settings and even in contra-power situations.

Effectiveness of Anti-Bullying Policies

There is some debate on whether the framing and adoption of anti-bullying policies are a solution to dealing with bullying and other discriminatory forms of behaviour, or whether such policies are ineffective and even risk restricting free speech.

Those who argue for anti-bullying policies would say:

  • These policies are required to protect certain groups of people.
  • It is a good way to protect the school from lawsuits by those who have been impacted by bullying.
  • Anti-bullying policies help in the creation of a positive school climate – one which fosters tolerance, respect and collegiality.
  • Research shows that good policies in place do reduce overall instances of bullying.

Those who believe anti-bullying policies are ineffective and curtail free speech would say:

  • Anti-bullying laws attempt to enforce tolerance among community members by outlawing protected forms of free speech.
  • The definition of ‘bullying’ is beginning to include speech that simply expresses dislike for another person. Allowing our freedom of speech to be limited by the subjectivity of each individual claiming an instance of bullying is a slippery slope.
  • Anti-bullying policies allow universities to squash speech they deem unfavorable in order to make their campuses more appealing to potential students (read: potential cash flows).
  • Research shows that zero tolerance policies are never really effective in ending bullying.

It does seem really odd to raise the issue of bullying in an international graduate school like MIIS. However, it seems important to do so because there is no way we are exempt from everything going on in the world around us. It would be impossible for MIIS to be without the challenges faced by other higher education institutions. After all, we are a microcosm of the world through the spectrum of cultures, languages, religions and identity groups that are all represented here in one small place, undoubtedly adding to our richness of perspectives, but necessitating action that builds and promotes inclusivity.

There does not seem to be clear guidance or consensus on what needs to be done by schools to reduce or end bullying. Jill Barshay is not alone in her argument that schools’ responses do not really address how to change a bully’s behaviour, because punishment alone does not change the climate. Restricting speech to prevent bullying and enacting exclusionary consequences on those accused of bullying does nothing to prevent bullying in the future. Instead, many argue that we should allow students to express themselves freely, and educate them when bullying accusations arise. Keashly and Neuman quote in their article: “The workplace bullying literature strongly suggests that an organization’s culture and related climate play an important role in the manifestation of hostile behaviors at work. They influence how members define and perceive the nature of interpersonal interaction as well as how they respond and manage such interactions.” I think in the context of all the organizational changes at MIIS, this is something we must consider and reflect on.

It does seems like rebuilding and transforming relations by improving campus climate is a good route for an institution like ours to take. But, what steps do we need to take to get there? We would love to hear your thoughts on what you think might be best for our campus. Here is the link to the poll.