When you think of bullying, you might think of a kid getting picked on at the playground, or maybe you imagine a group of middle school girls telling someone they can’t sit at the popular table. The images that pop up when we hear the word “bullying” are rarely in the college setting, but just because you aren’t in grade school anymore doesn’t mean bullying is over. In many ways, bullying can get harder to deal with in college — you’re living out of the house and don’t have your family to turn to for support, plus you’re already stressed about everything from money to a heavy course load.
So how do you deal when your roommate is going out of her way to make your life miserable or someone won’t stop sending you nasty texts? Her Campus talked to Rachel Simmons, New York Times best-selling author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and collegiettes who have dealt with bullying, to find out how you can combat aggressive, hurtful behavior.
What Does Bullying Look Like in College?
Logging on to Bullying
As collegiettes, we spend a large portion of our day on the Internet. For many of us, it’s the main way to catch up with friends, flirt with a crush, or study for a final. It’s also becoming a tool for bullying. A recent study from HealthDay News found that 15 percent of college students said they were bullied while at college, and 22 percent reported being cyber-bullied. Another study found that 9 out of 10 teenagers have witnessed bullying on a social networking site.
Lauren*, a junior at Bucknell, faced cyber-bullying this past year. “I was tagged in a picture with a girl’s ex-boyfriend,” she says. “His arm was around me and we were being flirty in the picture. The next thing I knew, I was getting Facebook messages from six different girls, calling me a b*tch and a slut.”
Lauren chose to ignore the messages and pursue her crush. “At first, I honestly just thought it was sad and pathetic on their part,” she says. “I wasn’t going to let them change the way I acted. I’ve dealt with catty girls before. I assumed they would get over it.”
The more Lauren talked to her crush, the more intense the cyber-bullying got. She changed the privacy settings on her Facebook, but the girls found her cell phone number and began texting her the same cruel names. Lauren is still dealing with this situation and, although the bullying has subsided, she still gets nervous when she gets a text from a number she doesn’t know.
Cyberbullying has seen a major rise in the past few years. Simmons is adamant that you don’t try and respond to the online cruelty. “Block the individuals who are hurting you and prevent them from contacting you. It's best to turn off your devices, too, even for a day or so, to give yourself some room to breathe,” she says. “If the bullying is severe and constant, you may be entitled to press harassment charges with law enforcement. It wouldn't hurt to call your local precinct and ask if they can do anything.” Simmons also suggests talking to the dean or the assistant dean about the issue. If you’re not comfortable doing that, she strongly urges that you go to your school’s counseling services to talk about the emotional effects of what is going on.
Living With a Bully
When Katie* entered Florida State University, she was so excited to meet her roommate. At first, the two girls got along well, but after Katie joined a sorority and her roommate didn’t, there was tension.
“At first, it was just little things,” says Katie. “She would blare her music when I was trying to study and ignore me when I asked if she could put on headphones. Then she started insulting me, telling me I was ugly and that no guy would want to be with me. Personal things of mine, like my jewelry, started going missing.” Even though the bullying was getting more and more unbearable, Katie stayed quiet. She thought that if she continued being nice, her roommate would eventually calm down and they could go back to being friendly. But at the end of the fall semester, one event proved that it would be impossible for Katie to stay optimistic.
“I kept a journal under my bed and I wrote some mean things about two of the older girls in my sorority,” says Katie. “I was just venting and it was in my personal journal, so I wasn’t worried. My roommate must have been reading my journal because those girls got a photocopy of the pages I had written about them.” Katie was kicked out of her sorority shortly after the incident and began thinking about how she could overcome what was quickly becoming an unbearable living situation.
In high school, you always had your family home to come back to, even if you were being bullied. In college, however, bullying can be impossible to escape when you’re living with the person who is terrorizing you.
“It’s really important to get support if you’re getting bullied,” Simmons says. "When you go to college you get swallowed up in this other world. You’re not with your family. Your new family is the people you live with.” She suggests relying on the services your college offers, especially when it comes to campus-related issues like dorm life. She stresses how important it is to not go through bullying alone.
“It’s extremely important to find an adult or a peer that you really trust,” says Simmons, “whether that’s a counselor on campus or an RA. Don’t go through it alone and don’t let your new community of college isolate you.”
For Katie, that trusted peer was an RA. “My RA helped me find a way to move out, but she also helped me get back in the social scene,” she says. “I was so upset after losing my sorority, but my RA introduced me to a bunch of different people, including the girl I live with now.”
Simmons suggests going to your RA and being prepared with evidence to show that this is not just a heated fight about who borrowed whose blow dryer.
“Be prepared to provide documentation to your Residence Life office as part of your request [to change rooms],” she suggests. “If you have an RA, make sure she knows what's going on, so that there is a ‘paper trail’ of the issues you are dealing with.” This can include cruel texts or emails from your roommate, or photographic evidence if your roommate is doing something like messing up your side of the room.
No matter how intense the bullying gets, Simmons stresses the importance of staying quiet to others on your floor. “Be very careful about who you talk to in your dorm or house; you don't want to create extra drama by accidentally confiding in your bully's ally,” she says. She reiterates that this doesn’t mean you should suffer alone, but that you should seek help from someone in counseling service or an RA — not a friend who might just get sucked into the situation.