Engaging College Faculty and Students in the Realities of Bullying and Sexual Assault at a Major Metropolitan University

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 20–21, 2015

New York University
Washington, D.C.

Bullying and Harassment in the Literature

Bullying, cyberbullying and harassment are concerns for any college or university:

  • Bullying is defined as “aggression in which a [college student], or groups of [students], physically or psychologically harasses another [student] over an extended period” (Hazler, Hoover, & Oliver, 1992);
  • Cyberbullying, a current form of bullying (Garrity & Blinder, 2015; Mahler, 2015), is defined as “aggression performed through digital or electronic media by a [college student or groups of students] conveying ‘flaming’ hostile messages [such as pornographic messages of ‘sexting’] intended to inflict discomfort or harm on another [student or other students] over an extended period” (Tokunaga, 2010); and
  • Sexual harassment is defined as “sexual advances, demands for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal or physical instances of a sexual nature considered unwelcome”; sexual harassment, including sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (United States Department of Education, 2011).

Bullying is about control or dominance (Olthof, Goossens, Vermande, Aleva, & Van Der Meulen, 2011) and is evident in humiliating instances of sexual harassment and rape. Harassment and instances of rape are cited frequently in the literature, which indicates that 19% of females and 2% of males are raped in their lifetimes (Krakauer, 2015; United States Department of Justice, 2014). Females aged 18-24 experience the highest rate of rape compared to females in all other age groups, as surveyed from 1995 (Krakauer, 2015; United States Department of Justice, 2014); and 38% of females are first raped when between the ages of 18 and 24 (Centers for Disease Control, 2012). More than 25% of female students experience sexual harassment by force when they are incapacitated by drugs or liquor by perpetrators; and female students at even the most respectable universities—35% at Yale, 34% at Michigan, and 29% at Harvard—are sexual harassment victims by force or by incapacitation by perpetrators (Perez-Pena, 2015).

More than 50% of young adult female and male students with disabilities are bullied in incidents of physical harassment, and 40% of them are bullied in incidents of sexual harassment (National Center for Victims of Crime, 2013).

Perpetrators of rape against female victims are reported to be intimate friends of the victim in 51% of incidents, miscellaneous friends in 41% of incidents, family members in 13% of incidents, and strangers in 14% of incidents; when the victim is male perpetrators are reported to be miscellaneous friends in 52% of incidents and strangers in 15% (Centers for Disease Control, 2012). 63% of student perpetrators of rape are repeat offenders (Krakauer, 2015; Lisak & Miller, 2002). 80% of victims of rape do not report perpetrators to authorities: of the victims reporting perpetrators, no more than 5% of the perpetrators are indicted and no more than 3% are convicted in the court system (Krakauer, 2015). Student victims (12%) are more likely than non-student victims (5%) to indicate harassment incidents as not important enough to report to authorities (Blow, 2015). Distressingly, 26% of student victims not reporting incidents are more likely to indicate the incidents are personal issues (Blow, 2015).

Only 19% of students respond to sexual harassment surveys (Perez-Pena, 2015). The culture and freedom of society (Kristof, 2014) and of universities (Kern & Malone, 2015) may be construed as normalizing rape and sexism among students. Incidents of rape and sexism may not be perceived to be an immediate problem. The literature is not infrequently criticized for poor research (French, 2015; Gray, 2014). This paper posits, however, that the need to respond to rape and sexual harassment realities of students is immediate in colleges and universities.

Bullying and Harassment Research at a Major Metropolitan University

The authors of this paper examined bullying and sexual harassment research at Pace University in New York City:

  • 2012 Bullying and Cyberbullying Survey of All Majors Students (n=355 Responses) (Lawler & Molluzzo, 2015);
  • 2013 Cyberbullying and Harassment Survey of Faculty and All Majors Students (n=434 Responses) (Molluzzo & Lawler, 2014); and
  • 2014 Bullying and Sexual Harassment Survey of Information Systems Students (n=142 Responses) (Lawler & Molluzzo, 2015a).

The authors explored the extent of bullying and harassment as perceived by faculty and students, so that, in the event of perceived seriousness, preemptive programs could be initiated by officials of the university. The authors focused on perceptions as to the seriousness of bullying and sexual harassment in the university during the periods covered by the surveys. (Surveys were distributed to professors and students through the internal e-mail system; questions were furnished through the Qualtrics system; and responses were anonymous, with students assured of anonymity on the the survey instruments.)

According to the 2012 bullying and cyberbullying survey (Lawler & Molluzzo, 2015), 91% of students knew of cyberbullying as a generic issue, and 12% knew of incidents in the university. Only 44% of the students perceived officials, professors, and staff at the university as knowing of cyberbullying as a harmful issue for students, and only 24% perceived the university to be responsive to the issue. 52% of the students, however, perceived cyberbullying as a personal issue for them, and 9% of the students were victims. 53% of the students knew of the internal Counseling Center at the university, but others inconsistently knew of other departments inappropriate in the event of victimization. A mere 17% of the students knew of policies on cyberbullying at the university, and only 41% knew of laws on cyberbullying in the United States. 84% of them recommended that officials of the university publicize more of its policies on cyberbullying and harassment.

According to the 2013 cyberbullying and harassment survey (Molluzzo & Lawler, 2014), 6% of responding Pace professors and 16% of responding Pace students knew of incidents at the university. Only 45% of the professors and only 24% of the students perceived the university to be responsive and sensitive to these issues. 27% of the professors and 47% of the students perceived harassment to be a personal issue for them in the university; and 10% of the professors and 9% of the students were victims. 72% of the professors and 85% of the students knew of policies on cyberbullying and harassment in the university, an improvement since 2012, but 95% of the professors and 84% of the students recommended that officials of the university publicize more of its policies on harassment. Students recommended seminars on sensitivity for professors (76%) and staff (75%).

Finally, according to the 2014 bullying and sexual harassment survey (Lawler & Molluzzo, 2015a) of information systems professors and students, a survey considered critical due to distinct “brogamming” bullying and “frat” harassment incidents in the information systems industry (Pollack, 2015), 48% of surveyed students knew of harassment as an issue in their profession, and female students were more aware of the problem than male students. 61% of the students perceived female professionals to be harassed more than other groups in the profession; and 59%, 46%, 39%, 38%, 38% and 36% of the students respectively perceived gay and lesbian, Muslim, African-American, Asian-American, disabled, and Hispanic professionals to be harassed more than other groups in the profession, after female professionals. 32% of the information systems students were overt or subtle victims in full- and part-time internship positions in both large- and small-sized organizations of the profession. 73% of the female students stressed the importance of intervention and pre-emptive processes and resolution sources in the profession and in the university.

The collective findings of the 2012-2014 perception surveys of the professors and students at Pace University generally highlighted high levels of perception of bullying and harassment incidents as an issue, but low levels of perception of institutional and instructional methods of prevention and resolution sources in the university. (Pace University responded to the problems of bullying and sexual harassment independently of the findings of the surveys.) The lesson learned is that officials, professors, and staff need to be in a position to customize programs to respond proactively to bullying and sexual harassment if professors and students perceive problems, otherwise there may be liability potential, apart from reputation risk (Willard, 2012).

Programs for Confronting Bullying Sexual Harassment

Programs confronting bullying and sexual harassment may be customized from the literature (Olweus, 1993) and initiated at the following levels in a university:

  • Administration Level, in which officials and staff are cognizant of issues of bullying and sexual harassment, of governmental laws, and of policies of the university;
  • Class Level, in which professors and students are cognizant of the issues of bullying and sexual harassment, of laws, and of policies of the university, and are engaged in educationally focused processes and relevant research; and
  • Individual Level, in which students are cognizant of the issues of bullying and sexual harassment, of laws, and of policies of the university and are engaged in extra-curricular programs with other students in intervention reporting and solutions.

From the administration level, officials and staff may initiate the following:

  • Assault, Discrimination and Grievance Policies* (i.e. Coordinated Policies for Responses in Event of Incidents [Johnson & Condrillo, 2015]);
  • Crisis Emergency Cards* (e.g., Drink Safe Cards);
  • Digital Information Kiosks*;
  • Film Festivals on Harassment* (e.g., It Happened Here [Kingkade, 2015], Student Body [Soloski, 2015], and The Hunting Ground [Dargis, 2015]);
  • Guest Presenters (e.g., New York City Police Department — Sex Crimes Unit);
  • Guides to Options, Resources, and Support in Event of Sexual Assault* (i.e. After a Sexual Assault, Date Rape Drug [GHB and Rohypnol] Signs [Carey, 2015], How to Help a Friend, Options for Medical Response, and Saving Evidence and Safety Tips);
  • Programs for Sensitivity Seminars and Sustainability (i.e. professors, staff, and students);
  • Symposiums* (e.g., Bullying and Sexual Assault: Perceptions and Realities Symposium);
  • Town Halls* (e.g., What Is Consent?—Yes Means Yes! [Bazelon, 2014]); and
  • White House (It’s On Us—Sign the Pledge Partnership!).

From the class level, professors and students may initiate the following:

  • Computer Information Systems 101 Course and University 101 Course* sponsored by professors for incoming students;
  • Cyber Ethics and Ethics Courses sponsored by professors for students (e.g., Professionalism Standards);
  • Documentary Research sponsored by professors (e.g., www.stopbullying.gov);
  • Internet Safety and Know Your Title IX Laws Webinars sponsored by professors;
  • Mentorships and Networks sponsored by professors with students (e.g., female professors with female students);
  • Pop Seminars* (e.g., Lady Gaga’s Till It Happens to You Sexual Assault Video [Yesilevskiy, 2015]);
  • Research Sources sponsored by professors (e.g., Legal Momentum: The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund);
  • Resources and Wikis sponsored by professors and students*;
  • Safety and Sexual Harassment Mandatory Resident Sessions sponsored by students*; and
  • Student Marches sponsored by professors, staff, and students in the University*.

Lastly, from the individual level, students may initiate the following steps:

  • Bullying Awareness, Bullying Prevention, and Sexual Harassment Awareness and Prevention Month(s) Reminders;
  • Celebrating Civility and Diversity Months sponsored by students*;
  • Climate Surveys sponsored by students*;
  • Clubs sponsored by students*;
  • Fraternity and Sorority Self-Advocacy Groups sponsored by students;
  • KnowBullying Apps (e.g., Enough Is Enough and StopBullying Blogs; Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and tags) sponsored by students;
  • Men Can Stop Rape Sessions sponsored by students;
  • Self-Defense Sessions sponsored by students;
  • Seminars sponsored by students on ByStander Intervention Training; and
  • Take Back the Day Marches sponsored by students*.

*Initiated at Pace University

Such programs for confronting harassment position officials to respond proactively but realistically in the event of perpetrator problems. Students, however, have to be involved more than others in the prevention of bullying and sexual harassment; they must be able to say, “It is our issue, and we will be the solution.” In summary, this paper contributes a foundation for helping officials, professors, staff, and students navigate the realities of bullying and sexual harassment in colleges and universities, from the perspective of a leading metropolitan university.


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