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College of Human Ecology

Students say 'no' to bullying on campus, but wary of cyberbullying

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

MANHATTAN -- Bullying on the college campus may not be a big issue for a majority of students recently surveyed, yet many of those same students point to one gossip Web site as a potential source of problems.

"It is fairly unusual to talk about bullying in a university or campus environment," said Elaine Johannes, an assistant professor of family studies and human service at Kansas State University.

That's why in November she and Judy Lynch, director of K-State's Academic Assistance Center, surveyed freshmen enrolled in Lynch's university experience classes about their own run-ins with bullying. Lynch and Johannes' objective is for the results to inform anti-bullying efforts not only on campuses but also in K-12 schools and youth organizations that can thwart bullying before it comes to college.

Both researchers said they were happy that the surveys showed a majority of the K-State freshmen feeling comfortable on campus and trusting faculty and administrators to help, even if they're not exactly sure how that happens. The survey also shows that those students who do think bullying is an issue are prepared to take action to stop or prevent it.

"What I get out of the whole survey is that we have a lot of students who would do the right thing," Lynch said.

"I think that reflects K-State's reputation as a friendly and student-centered university," Johannes said.

Both Johannes and Lynch think this inclination to help also suggests that the next step in addressing bullying might be educating bystanders about healthy and effective ways to intervene when someone is being bullied.

Lynch and Johannes said that college students who feel bullied should contact their student life office, student health or counseling center, or if they live on campus, a residence hall assistant.

Most of the K-State freshmen who were surveyed didn't report cyberbullying being a major problem, but when it does happen they said it's most often through cell phone calls or text messages. Lynch and Johannes were surprised to find how many students fingered one Web site, Juicy Campus, as a source of cyberbullying.

"The younger set seems to be moving away from Facebook and MySpace because older people have joined those networks," Johannes said. "If we faculty and administrators don't know what Juicy Campus is and what's going on, we need to."

Johannes said the reasons for bullying and cyberbullying change with age. Where students in middle school and early in high school may bully someone out of boredom or for fun, the survey indicates that upperclassmen and college students' reasons center mainly on relationships and jealousy, she said.

To probe the roots of college bullying, Lynch and Johannes asked the freshmen about bullying experiences in high school and anti-bullying programs in those schools. The researchers will share responses from in-state students with the Kansas Department of Education to help monitor and guide anti-bullying programs that Kansas students may encounter before they come to college.

The researchers surveyed 216 students, which is 6 percent of enrolled freshmen. Johannes and Lynch said that this group represents a fairly good snapshot of the university's student body, although there are proportionally more female and out-of-state students in Lynch's classes than in the university as a whole. Lynch said this could be because women may be more likely to recognize how the university experience class could help them, and out-of-state students could feel like they need that extra opportunity to adjust to K-State.

Regardless, the researchers said the university experiences classes provided a good group to survey. One reason is because these students, most between 18 and 20 years old, are still familiar with bullying experiences.

"We're surveying them at the roughest part of the year," Johannes said. "The newness of K-State has worn off. Maybe they're figuring out who their friends are and who they aren't."

"They haven't necessarily made those connections yet with faculty, counselors or other people in a position to help," Lynch said.

The researchers plan to survey each year's freshmen and would like to survey another Kansas campus to compare results.

Sources: Elaine Johannes, 785-532-7720, ejohanne@k-state.edu; and Judy Lynch, 785-532-6492, judylync@k-state.edu
Note: View detailed information about the survey results (Adobe Acrobat)
News release prepared by: Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, 785-532-6415, ebarcomb@k-state.edu

This article was posted on Wednesday, December 10, 2008, and is filed under College News, Family Studies & Human Services.