Stand Up to Secondhand Bullying

     About two weeks ago, I found out that my friend called me an obscene and derogatory word to my father. It wasn’t just one of the everyday-drop-something-on-my-toe curse words, (though I would have taken any one of those over the one she chose.) This is one that most would agree goes beyond everyday usage and beyond just being a curse word. 

     She called me a c*nt. (I know there are asterisks there, but I am sure you know what I mean).

     I can go into all kinds of reasons as to why a woman should never use that word against another woman. That, however, will have to wait for another time because I am here to discuss a different facet to this story. I am here to talk about the fact that she will not be held accountable for her actions.

     College can be a beautiful thing. I mean, it is a beautiful thing. It is a time of self-discovery, new experiences, and constant learning. 

     College can also be considered a proto-public. (Proto meaning “first in time,” “beginning,” or “giving rise to” and public meaning “of or relating to people in general”). This means that college is essentially the early beginnings of society or the early beginning of real life. College is practice for what comes after because as soon as you graduate, you are thrown into the real world. But the reality is this: the real world has consequences.

     Do you ever say you are going to do something but then end up not doing it? Yeah, me too. I often over-commit myself to my friends and my clubs only to send an email or text apologizing for cancelling or not showing up. Sometimes there are consequences, sometimes there are not. Things come up, as I am sure you know. Sometimes you have to study or you may have forgotten your 11:59pm deadline. That is college. But what happens when someone calls you a c*nt to your father? What happens then? There is a time and place for understanding and there is a time and place for accountability.

     Let’s say that this friend of mine was my co-worker at a business. If she had called me a c*nt in the workplace, more than likely she would be taken to H.R. More than likely there would be a severe punishment and, more than likely, she would be fired because everyone knows that behavior like that is unprofessional and completely unacceptable.

     So why aren’t there repercussions like this in college? College students say things like this all the time. I know for a fact that I am not unique in my experience. That thought, however, is not a comfort to me because no one should have to endure petty and hurtful behavior, especially when it is that same petty and hurtful behavior that gets people fired.

     It is possible I could have reported her to the Baylor Code of Conduct. You are probably wondering why I didn’t. There were many reasons as to why I decided against that course of action that I am choosing to keep private, but more importantly, I shouldn’t have to report her to an institution for there to be accountability. It should come from us, the students. Because after all, college is practice for real life. And if people are not given consequences now, they may learn that there will never be any.

     The consequences I am talking about are social. I remember in high school and middle school, the entire school would attend assemblies about bullying. They would explain that bullying is wrong (which seemed like a no-brainer at the time), but they also explained that if you see bullying, you should do something about it. 

     So why do we not? Why do we turn the other cheek when a friend says an off-hand comment or when a lab-partner casually makes a racist remark? If we do not start holding each other accountable for our mistakes and behavior now, what kind of society are we contributing to when we are off in the real world? People are going to live their lives thinking they can do whatever they want, hurt whoever they want, and that nobody will do anything about it.

     Unfortunately, it seems that experiences like the one I described earlier are quite universal. It is possible this experience has happened or will happen to you… maybe within your own friend group. People may get on each other's nerves, they may lash out and say a mean comment, or they may talk bad about you behind your back to another friend. It can seem like those you call your best friends take sides in these matters or even worse, they do not take sides at all, opting for the path of indifference and people-pleasing. They often cite that it is because they do not want to “rock the boat” or cause any more divides or problems. I often find that it is because it is easier for them to not get involved. In these situations, didn’t you wish that someone had said something? And if you haven’t had this experience yet, wouldn’t you want someone to step in when a mutual friend says something out of hand instead of just laughing it off? 

     A bystander is just as bad as the bully because the bystander is doing nothing about it. We are creating a culture for ourselves that tolerates hateful rhetoric simply because it is not our problem, or because it is just easier to stay silent and stay back. 

     A best friend, a friend, and those you keep in your life who are in between those labels, is someone who is in your corner. There is a sort of unspoken contract in these types of relationships that guarantees not only fun times, but also a sense of loyalty. This unspoken contract guarantees that this person has your back, that you have their back.

     We shouldn’t leave it up to higher powers, institutions, or bosses to hold someone accountable when we know that someone’s behavior is morally and fundamentally wrong. I am encouraging you to realize the own power you have in your own relationships and to stand by the side of your friends, whether that means holding them accountable for their hurtful behavior or holding their hand when someone lashes out at them. We owe it to each other to do that.

     You might be thinking, “Liz, what does this have to do with anything? It is just a word! Let it go!” And you are right. It is just a word. And words only have as much power as you give them. But this isn’t about the word. This isn’t about petty drama. This is about what this word symbolizes: a culture that doesn’t care about things that are said behind closed doors, a culture that doesn’t care about someone’s cruel and malicious behavior if they are not on the receiving end of it, a culture that doesn’t care that a president of a college organization calls a fellow member a c*nt to her father. 

     I guess the question here is, how do we combat this culture of toxicity? How do we make a difference against something that seems to not only permeate college society, but society as a whole? How do we stop a problem as deep rooted as this?

     It is what I have been saying all along: we need to hold each other accountable. And it starts now. We need change, and that change is US. We need to be the ones to say something because contrary to popular belief, we DO have the power to stand up for each other, we DO have the power to stand up for ourselves, we DO have the power to stand up for what is right. 

      If we limit ourselves to the roles of witnesses and bystanders, this culture will only continue to thrive, taking us as collateral with it.

     We all know better. So it is about time we start doing better.