When students turn sour

Anti-bullying week came at the perfect time during the university calendar, according to Judith Carey, director of Student Services at the University of Lincoln, who has found that a couple of months into the semester, tensions amongst students can get fired up and get drawn into bullying without even realising.

Poster from Bullying.co.uk

Carey warns that the stresses and strains of student living can bring out the worst in people and every year her department is forced to deal with cases of bullying: “Students, especially in the first year, do not necessarily end up living with their idea of ideal housemates and certain frictions arise and it can be over something as simple as people rebelling against someone who wants to keep the kitchen clean.”

The Student Services team are trained how to handle bullying, but there is a general misconception that it does not occur at university as students are expected to be intelligent enough to settle their differences in a civilised way.

Judith Carey points out that the cases she deals with normally are a result of one person out of a group being singled out for being different. “People don’t intend to be malicious but things which seem like a bit of fun can be really upsetting. Increasingly Facebook is causing problems as students will come and talk to us saying they have seen hurtful comments amongst their housemates about them on the site,” Carey says.

Cyberbullying was the theme for 2009’s anti-bullying week with concerns growing over internet and mobile phone bullying. The charity Bullying UK primarily targets teenagers and children, but also has a section for adults and states some of the consequences it can have even amongst adults.

“Bullying has often had a serious effect on their lives, affecting relationships and the ability to hold down jobs. Self confidence and self esteem are low and depression is often a factor,” says Liz Carnell of the charity.

Judith Carey backs this up by explaining that students struggle to cope with these pressures and can sometimes be driven to leave university: “For some people who have been singled out all their lives they are told things will be different when they get into a university environment, and for these people in particular it can be distressing when they are faced with the same problems.”

Student Services urge anyone with a problem to come forwards and talk to advisers at the centre as there are several ways the situation can be dealt with. The university charter itself takes a hard line against bullying and cases can be officially investigated, but in most cases the students involved are invited to talk and sort the issue out amongst themselves. “The situation is never made worse when people come in to see us and generally when the students realise what they have done they show genuine remorse,” Carey says.

If you need any advice about bullying then Student Services are trained and ready to help, or you can visit the national anti-bullying charity’s website.

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