Experts discuss impact of childhood bullying into college
Long-term effects of bullying for victims can include difficulty with interpersonal relationships, a lack of self-esteem and depression, said Laura Luciano, assistant director of the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance.
The term “bullying” is used for a certain type of behavior at a young age, but at the university and work level it begins being referred to as a criminal issue, Luciano said.
Joe DiMichele, director of Student Conduct, said certain behavioral practices are learned during childhood as bullies or bullying victims.
“There are patterns that you’ve learned at a young age that you develop whether you’re a bully or [someone] being bullied,” he said.
DiMichele said bullying is a type of learned behavior that worsens as it continues. While it certainly harms victims, he said it can also harm bullies.
Bullies may have tried to fit in with others in elementary school, but instead were made fun of or pushed to do something against their will, DiMichele said.
He said bullying victims might be impacted to such a degree where they resort to life-threatening behavior. Moreover, DiMichele said bullying practices sometimes originate from a childhood defense mechanism.
Jackie Moran, director of the Office of Student Affairs Compliance, said unacceptable behavior must be addressed during childhood, before individuals reach young adulthood.
“It’s not something that we can tackle on our own at the college level,” she said. “It needs to be addressed starting in elementary school so that students learn how to behave around one another from a very early age.”
Bullying can be in person or online, and emotional or physical. DiMichele and Moran said each variation has unique effects, and resulting anguish can manifest in different ways.
The environment in which bullying incidents occur can also play a role. Issues in the workplace, classroom or similar places may produce similar outcomes, DiMichele said.
“I’m not a psychologist, but I’m sure that different people are going to have different reactions not only on the different types of bullying that are occurring but also just based on individual personalities and how people react in certain situations as individuals,” Moran said.
DiMichele said different people act in different ways. While one person may “lash out,” another may choose to become withdrawn. In many cases, others may choose to get help.
Perpetrators of bullying are impacted by their past behavior too, and their aggressive nature often carries over into their social lives as they grow up, Luciano said.
“This could shift to being involved in criminal activity and/or being abusive with partners,” Luciano said.
Not all of the effects of childhood bullying are negative. Someone who was bullied may decide to major in social work or find a career in schools that lets them do anti-bullying work, Luciano said.
DiMichele said bullying reports come from a variety of different venues at the University, often from fraternities, sororities, athletics, residence life and other organizations.
The University Police Department brings in many of the reports, but they also come from the victim themselves or somebody who is concerned about a friend, DiMichele said.
He said a bullying incident is not always obvious either. It might be a minor situation where the bully does not even realize they are causing harm to someone.
A “dozen or two [dozen] incidents” were reported this past semester, DiMichele said. A typical case involves a roommate issue or an incident that ends in a fight.
When a report comes in to the Office of Student Conduct, it is investigated immediately. In most cases, there is at least a little bit of bullying history, DiMichele said.
He said the Office finds out how long the incident has been occurring, how severe it is, whether each person realizes what is happening and who should be taking responsibility.
The student then receives assistance from any of the many resources on campus like Health, Outreach Promotion and Education, the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance and counseling.
The Office of Student Conduct also assists students in understanding and learning from their poor choices so they can move forward, DiMichele said.
“It’s not about a person being ultimately good or bad, students are good,” DiMichele said. “Ultimately it comes down to the [choices] they make.”