Feb 6, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

We often think of bullies in the context of elementary school playgrounds, lunch tables, and school busses. However, the reality is that bullies grow up and move on with many heading to a common destination: college campuses. Factor in the skyrocketing prevalence of cyberbullying, and college students are at significant risk for being victimized, as well as for the lasting mental health impacts which accompany bullying. Here’s a closer look at four things all students and their families should know about bullying in college.

1. It won’t just go away on its own.

According to Brian Van Brunt, President of the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association and author of the book Ending Campus Violence: New Approaches to Prevention, the misconception that bullying ceases after secondary school may be part of the problem.

Van Brunt told USA Today, “I think it’s that perception (college) a blank slate. Once high school’s over it’ll be a whole new experience, but the problems don’t go away. These things don’t just disappear … I would argue they get worse because you’re adding stress … Why would that get easier not harder?”

Shining a light on the pervasiveness of the problem can help students on both sides of the spectrum. It can both mitigate the “more hardened point of view” that engenders bullies while also reinforcing that help is available for victims of bullying.

2. College students face unique challenges.

The transition to college and adulthood is an exciting time. But it can also be an isolating one. College students who are bullied may lack the circle of support they’d find in their childhood communities. To make matters worse, they’re also less likely to share their experiences with others for a range of reasons, including feeling like they have no one to talk to, the perception that they should be able to handle the situation on their own, and embarrassment.

Taking steps to deal with loneliness and isolation can help keep bullying -- and its dangerous effects -- at bay. Experts recommend getting involved in activities, reaching out to others, and taking advantage of campus resources to help reduce and cope. And don’t be afraid to speak up. Insists one bullying survivor, “When you stop feeling self-conscious about the bruises and open up, you will become more aware of your support system and that there are people out there who love you.”

3. Bullying takes many different shapes.

In today’s digital society, bullying comprises much more than stealing someone’s lunch money.  On college campuses, everything from peer pressure to hazing can fall under the heading of bullying. Even professors can be bullies: According to the results of one study, 15 percent of college students reported witnessing incidences of professors bullying students, while four percent said a professor had bullied them.

In every case of bullying, the more the problem is hidden or ignored, the more insidious it becomes. According to Van Brunt, this is a matter of changing the culture that tolerates these behaviors. And while this may begin with campus administrators, the call extends to students. “It’s nice for us to teach these things because we’re older, people will listen to us. But we need people on the ground to really step up and help change this culture. We actually need the community to take responsibility and hold each other accountable,” he says.

4. How you respond to bullying matters.

We can go on and on about preventing bullying, but the fact remains that it’s happening right now on a campus near you. So what can you do if it happens to you? In addition to talking to someone, documenting your experiences is important. Advises Verywell, “Include the dates and times of each incident and any witnesses to the event.  If you have experienced cyberbullying, be sure to take screenshots or save copies of everything. It’s also a good idea to email a parent or friend who is not on campus so that they also have documentation of what is happening.”

However, it’s not merely enough to report bullying; you must also insist on a plan of action. Continues Verywell, “For instance, will the person you contacted be reviewing your documentation, talking with the bully or questioning the bystanders? If so, stress that the college first take steps to protect you from additional bullying. Also, if the bully is your roommate, be sure you request a new room assignment before the college discusses the bullying with your roommate. Remember, you have very little control over the type of disciplinary action the school takes. But you do have a say in how you will be protected from further harm.”

To get involved in bully prevention on your college campus, check in with your college’s department of student services.

If you are a victim of bullying, the following resources are available to help: 24/7/365 Crisis Hotline, Stopbullying.gov, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the Samaritans crisis hotline.


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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