Reporting bullying is difficult but necessary process
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A survey taken at Uni in an independent study showed that out of 127 responses, approximately 12.6% claim that they have been victims of sexual harassment at Uni specifically, and 37% say that they have witnessed sexual harassment of their peers at Uni, yet very few reports are made. Many students who were surveyed expressed worries and questions about reporting bullying. Students say that making a report is a daunting task, but anyone wishing to come forward is not alone.
The bullying and sexual harassment policy is available to all students, parents, and faculty in the student handbook. The policy attempts to clearly define what the school does not allow in terms of student behavior, but many students and teachers still find the lines blurry as to what conduct is appropriate or not. When students feel that they are being bullied or harassed, reporting the issue can be a scary and difficult process.
Junior Elizabeth Singer said that her experience of reporting her sexual harassment and bullying was less than straightforward. She had to report this twice and she felt like no change was really made.
“I don’t know if [the administrators] actually care or if they nod their heads because that’s what they’re supposed to do,” Singer said.
The first official step in reporting bullying or sexual harassment at Uni is for a witness or a victim to talk to a teacher or staff member. Dr. Majerus and Mr. Rayburn are the two designated faculty representatives to come to with harassment complaints, but administrators and SSO counselors are another option for students.
Once the complaint is filed, the school begins an investigation. The administration conducts interviews with any witnesses to the harassment and looks further into the complaint in order to have all of the pertinent information. They then bring it forward to a committee so they can decide whether there is enough evidence to support the student’s claims.
If a student has been bullied or harassed in the past, the school needs to attend to those past issues as well. Past issues must be addressed in their reports and must be investigated, regardless if it is still occurring. Concerns can be brought up from previous years, over the summer, or any other time, even if it was not when school was in session.
Only a “handful” of incidents have been brought before Assistant Director for Student Life, Dr. Karl Radnitzer in his seven years at Uni. However, Radnitzer believes that there is more bullying and harassment going on beyond what has been reported.
The administration especially worries about online bullying. “It’s that situation where—and I can’t always speak for all kids—but that situation where it becomes joking or fun and then it starts crossing a line,” Radnitzer says about the suspected online bullying.
Radnitzer also worries about grinding and other explicitly sexual forms of dancing at school dances. Grinding as a whole is not permitted at Uni-affiliated dances, but there have been issues especially with students grinding on other students non-consensually. Students surveyed anonymously felt that having more supervision or chaperones at dances wasn’t lessening the problem and they weren’t sure how exactly to take on the issue.
It can be difficult for students to report bullying and harassment that they witness or experience. Once Singer did report her harassment, she felt that nothing much was done for her and she wanted to give up. She said that she was encouraged to push the issue by another adult in her life who had seen some of the bullying and harassment take place. She took it to a school counselor which led to an investigation by the administration.
In the investigation, the administrators asked for witnesses and proof, but Singer felt that nothing she offered as evidence was sufficient.
“I think that what happens unfortunately is—I think kids—I mean think about it—it’s hard to address it and it’s hard to step forward and say something. Does it take a lot of courage to do that? Yeah, it really does. A lot of courage to do that,” Radnitzer says.
Many surveyed students felt that if they did experience some type of bullying or harassment, they wouldn’t know what to do and they wouldn’t be comfortable speaking up about it. Similarly, other students said that if they saw a student being harassed that they weren’t close to, they wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking up because a lot of students make jokes about sexual things or touch each other in joking ways, so they wouldn’t be sure whether what they were witnessing was unwanted or not. Uni students who were interviewed anonymously said that there was sexual harassment or other “uncomfortable sexual antagonism” in the hallways all the time.
Students who were interviewed reported that they felt Uni in general had an atmosphere that felt unsafe for victims of sexual harassment or bullying. They said that there were very little social repercussions for antagonizers and that the school didn’t seem to be punishing the students either.
Singer felt that at the end of the day, she wasn’t satisfied with the results of making the report. “A year of feeling worthless as a person and his [the harasser] punishment was to read a leadership pamphlet” was insulting to her, she said.
Singer said that she wasn’t sure if the experience of making a report overall was worth it. Radnitzer, on the other hand, thinks that any report is worth the while.
“I think when people do do [report] it and the message gets out that the administration and the school is going to address it—that’s a good message,” he says.
“We’re trying to teach everyone here that there are some moral limits to how you should be acting towards each other. We’re trying to teach people to be more self-disciplined and aware of these things—what they’re saying, what they’re doing—and it’s the way the message is perceived by the other person that counts,” Radnitzer says. “It’s not my perception of how my message is coming across it’s how you’re perceiving it. If you’re thinking ‘Hey I’m feeling bullied, I’m feeling harassed, that’s a problem.”