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What to Know About College Bullying
Have you experienced bullying in your high school or at your college or university? Under Title IX, you have a right not to be bullied, and your school must protect you by preventing the bullying harassment and stopping any harassment that does occur. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about bullying.
How Common is Bullying at the College Level?
If you are being bullied at college, or if you are seeking help for a friend who is being bullied at college, you are not alone. According to a study published in the scientific journal Adolescence in 2004, 24.7% of students surveyed reported seeing bullying occasionally, and 2.8% reported seeing it “very frequently.” One in 20 students acknowledged being bullied themselves, while one in 100 self-reported being victims of frequent bullying.
Eleven years later, a study published in the Journal of American College Health found similar results. This suggests that not only is bullying in college not a new problem, but it is a persistent, pervasive and systemic problem as well.
Common Examples of Bullying on College Campuses
Bullying on college campuses takes many different forms. While in-person bullying remains a prevalent issue, cyberbullying is becoming increasingly prevalent as well. Common examples of bullying that students experience, both on campus and off, include:
- Cyberbullying – As discussed above, cyberbullying is any form of bullying that takes place online. Most often, cyberbullying occurs on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Cyberbullying can be either direct (i.e., sending abusive messages directly to a victim or tagging a victim in a social media post) or indirect (i.e., posting embarrassing photos of a victim or talking about a victim in a video posted online), and both forms can have equally harmful consequences.
- Physical Bullying – Physical bullying can involve direct physical contact or physical intimidation. To be considered bullying, physical contact does not have to cause physical harm. For example, if a dorm mate or housemate regularly pushes you, this is bullying. Physical intimidation can involve blocking access to rooms or hallways, pretending to punch or lunge toward someone as if to tackle them, brandishing weapons, and any other conduct that puts you in fear for your personal safety.
- Sexual or Gender–Based Bullying – Sexual and gender-based bullying can involve verbal comments and insults, threats, social media posts, text messages, physical contact, and anything else that makes you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable in your own skin. While sexual or gender-based bullying will often cross the line into sexual harassment or sexual assault, conduct does not have to rise to this level to constitute bullying. A bully may target someone specifically because of that person’s sex or gender, target a former intimate partner, or target someone for no particular reason at all. Here, too, the specific reason why you are being bullied isn’t important. What is important is that you have clear legal rights and that with help you can put an end to the abuse.
- Social Bullying – Social bullying involves casting someone as an outsider. This form of bullying can also take place in person or online, and it can take place in your presence or behind your back. Making fun of you, spreading rumors about you, and discouraging classmates from hanging out with you are all examples of social bullying that are prevalent on many college campuses.
- Verbal Bullying – Verbal bullying involves making any comments that reflect an imbalance of power and that are intended to cause harm. An undated study published by Longwood University found verbal bullying to be the most prevalent form of bullying on college campuses, although it is possible that verbal bullying has been supplanted by cyberbullying in recent years. Verbal bullying itself can take many different forms, from threats of physical harm to race-based and gender-based discriminatory comments.
Hazing is Considered a Form of Bullying
Hazing in college is also considered a form of bullying. According to the Hazing Prevention Consortium, 60% of college students experience hazing either on or off campus. The Hazing Prevention Consortium identifies three key elements of hazing:
- Hazing occurs in a group context (i.e., in a locker room, sorority house or fraternity house);
- Hazing involves dangerous, degrading or humiliating behavior; and,
- Hazing happens regardless of the victim’s willingness to participate.
While students who force others to undergo hazing rituals can face academic penalties, the consequences can be far greater for victims of hazing. If you are a victim, your school is required to take action, and our lawyers can deal with your school on your behalf.
Can I Sue My School Under Title IX if I Am a Victim of Bullying By a Student?
If you are a victim of bullying by a student at your college, you may have a claim against your school under Title IX. Generally, there are administrative procedures students must follow when pursuing Title IX claims before going to court, although victimized students can seek protection from the courts on an emergency basis when necessary.
Other federal laws also address bullying, and many states have enacted anti-bullying and anti-hazing laws as well. These laws allow students to file claims against their colleges under varying circumstances—including cases involving non-sex-related bullying (Title IX is specific to sex discrimination, which includes gender discrimination and sexual harassment). At Duffy Law, we handle all types of bullying cases against colleges and universities nationwide, and we can use our experience to help you effectively assert your legal rights.
To pursue a claim against a school for student bullying, it is generally necessary to show that the school could and should have done something to prevent it. There are various ways our lawyers can prove that a school failed to act appropriately, from failing to enforce appropriate Code of Conduct provisions to failing to take action in response to prior complaints.
Can I Sue My School Under Title IX if I Am a Victim of Bullying By a Professor or Coach?
You may also have a claim against your school under Title IX if you have been bullied by a professor or coach. Since professors and coaches are school employees, schools are liable for their actions within the scope of their employment.
According to the two studies we discussed above, around 15% of students report having been bullied by a professor or instructor at least once. The study published in the Journal of American College Health reports that 3.1% of students self-reported experiencing bullying from a professor or instructor “occasionally,” with 0.9% experiencing bullying from a professor or instructor “very frequently.” Based on these data, the study’s authors conclude that greater prevention efforts are necessary.
Similarly, many coaches believe that “tough love” is an effective way of preparing their athletes for competition. Increasingly, however, studies are showing that this is not the case. But, regardless of whether a coach is well-intentioned or acting maliciously, calling out and embarrassing student athletes crosses the line into bullying in many cases.
In 2020, Insider published a report concluding that “[a] pattern [had] emerged of psychological and emotional abuse in women’s sports.” The report focused on the stories of 17 former female college athletes from 10 different schools across the country. These students reported instances of bullying and abuse ranging from being forced to run blindfolded to being forced into fistfights and being “treated like dogs.”
Bullying in college sports is an issue on men’s teams as well. Men’s team athletes face many of the same issues, particularly as underclassmen. Whether coaches bully student athletes themselves or look the other way when it comes to hazing and physical or psychological abuse, the coach—and the school—are equally responsible.
In addition to Title IX claims, students who have been bullied by professors and coaches may have claims under other laws as well. These include Title VI (which applies in cases involving bullying based on color, race or national origin) and the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act (which apply in cases involving bullying based on disability).
What Remedies Can Victims of Bullying at College Obtain Under Title VI, Title IX and Other Laws?
The remedies that are available to you depend on several different factors—including what you want from your claim. Financial compensation is an option in many cases, and so is seeking changes to the school’s policies and procedures to prevent similar incidents in the future. Your options will depend on the specific law (or laws) that apply to your case and the remedies those laws provide.
Resources Available to College Students Who Are Victims of Bullying
There are several resources available to college students who are victims of bullying. If you or someone you know has been bullied, we encourage you to use the following resources as you see fit, and we also encourage you to speak with one of our lawyers about the options you have available:
- Hazing Prevention Consortium – The Hazing Prevention Consortium has published several resources for victims of college hazing. These include statistics on the prevalence of college hazing, a map of states with anti-hazing laws, and various toolkits and guides.
- Cyberbullying Research Center – The Cyberbullying Research Center has published several resources for students who have experienced bullying. These include tips for dating, social media, and protecting yourself as a victim.
- StopBullying.gov – StopBullying.gov is the federal government’s website devoted to bullying prevention. Resources available on the site include information about how to understand the effects of bullying, steps colleges and universities can take to prevent bullying, and what you can do if you or someone you care about is being bullied at school.
- STOMP Out Bullying – STOMP Out Bullying is an advocacy organization that works to prevent bullying through education about homophobia, LGBTQIA+ discrimination, racism, hatred, violence and other issues. Its online resources include a help chat line and additional information about the short-term and long-term effects of bullying.
- Ditch the Label – Ditch the Label is a charity organization devoted “to help[ing] young people aged 12-25 navigate the issues affecting them the most; from mental health and bullying to identity and relationships.” Its bullying resources include interviews with students who have been bullied, recommended Instagram accounts, and articles about how to handle different types of bullying situations.
- The Trevor Project – The Trevor Project is a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQIA+ youths and young adults. Through the Project’s website, bullied students can talk to counselors, talk to other LGBTQIA+ students, and explore a variety of topics related to bullying and self-care.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – If you are thinking about harming yourself after being bullied, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help. Support is available 24/7, and you can contact the Lifeline by dialing 988.
What Can I Do if I Have Been Bullied at College?
If you have been bullied at college, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from further abuse. There are also steps you can take to help make sure your lawyer is able to pursue all available claims on your behalf. Some of the most important steps you can take include:
1. Acknowledging that You Are a Victim
If you have been bullied at school, it is important to acknowledge that you are a victim. You have not done anything wrong, and you are not to blame for your situation. As we said above, you are not alone. Unfortunately, many people get bullied in college; and, to protect themselves, they seek help before their situation becomes untenable.
An important fact to know about bullying is that bullies rarely stop on their own. Once a bully singles you out, or once a bully targets you as a member of a team or group, you will most likely need to take action to restore your normal life. If you are a victim of hazing, even if you might not get hazed again, others almost certainly will.
2. Seek Help from Professionals
As a victim of bullying, professional help is available to you. If you are feeling scared or vulnerable and need to speak with someone immediately, you can contact the Trevor Project or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline using the links provided above, or you can call 911 if you feel this is necessary.
You can also visit your school’s counselor or any other doctor in your area; and, even if they cannot help you personally, they can point you in the right direction. We also strongly recommend that you speak with one of our lawyers. Our lawyers can walk you through all of the options you have available, and we can take appropriate action on your behalf to put an end to the abuse.
3. Take Notes
If you are interested in pursuing a claim under Title VI, Title IX or any other law that provides protection against (and remedies for) bullying, you should take detailed notes. The more details you can write down, the better. Taking notes is a good exercise for helping you recall everything that happened, where and when it happened, and who was present, and having these notes available will allow you to provide your lawyer with as much information as possible.
If you are concerned about someone finding your notes, put them in a safe place. You can either hide them in a book or binder; or if you type them on your laptop, be sure to close your laptop so that your notes are password-protected.
4. Preserve Any Evidence
If you have any evidence, you should be sure to preserve it. This could be photos or videos you have on your phone, dirty or damaged clothing, destroyed personal items, or anything else that helps show you were bullied. If you have a claim against your college or university for failing to take appropriate action to either prevent or respond to bullying, this evidence could be extremely helpful for proving what happened.
5. Work With Your Lawyer To Move Forward
Finally, you will need to be prepared to work alongside your lawyer as you move forward. While your lawyer will be able to take many steps on your behalf, your lawyer will need your help. The more information you can share with your lawyer, and the more involved you are in the process, the better the outcome will be.
Contact National Title IX Attorneys If You’ve Faced Bullying at Your College or University
If you have been bullied or harassed at school or at a school-sponsored event, call the highly experienced Title IX and Conduct Code attorneys at Duffy Law as soon as possible to discuss your situation. You can reach Duffy Law at 203-946-2000.
References https://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/  https://cyberbullying.org/what-is-cyberbullying/  https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2020-03/GLSEN-2013-National-School-Climate-Survey-Full-Report.pdf