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Nov. 30, 2012
CONTACT: K. E. Schwab

SRU addresses bullying issues

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Many believe that bullying ends with high school, but according to Leigh Ann Datt, director of Slippery Rock University's Office of Student Conduct, "that is just not the case. It may take different forms in college, but it still goes on - and is being seen most apparently in cyber-bullying."

"It also goes from being what is usually regarded as a juvenile offense to what can be a major, adult crime, including fines and possible jail time for harassment and stalking," she said.

David Wolfe, president of the Student Government Association at SRU, has declared today as "Bully Awareness Day." See related story in this issue of rockpride online.

"In college it can be subtle like name calling, or as childish as excluding people from a circle of friends," said Carol Holland, director of SRU's Counseling Center.

"Cyber-bullying/harassment is against the Slippery Rock University Code of Conduct and can involve text messages over the Internet, Facebook or Twitter among other types of online bullying," she said.

"Students come to the SRU Counseling Center for a variety of reasons. Very often discussions disclose a history of bullying in high school. Sometimes the bullying in high school was so disruptive, the student transferred schools - or even left school. That severe type of bullying is seldom seen on our campus," Holland said.

"Still, we see exclusions, snide remarks, letting people know they are different and not wanted," she said.

"In college, bullies may make comments about body image and body size, and sometimes it is about academic capability. Comments such as, 'I am smarter than you. You're dumb' can be a form of bullying," she said.

Bullying can also carry over to socio-economic areas, including remarks about a person's quality of clothes or the vehicle they drive. "We see these kinds of things in college, but not as much as on the high school level," Holland said.

"SRU has a number of programs in place to aid students dealing with bullying issues," she said. "We help them get help in learning to assert themselves and in developing healthy coping methods. Sometimes it involves counseling. We have assertiveness classes and we teach people to let others know what they have said or done is hurtful. We also have education sessions to expose everyone to how painful it is to be a victim of bullying."

"We realize that with the rise of social media, people sometimes make statements online that they may or may not actually mean, but we regard all of these statements seriously and they can turn into harassment charges," Datt said. "For those under age 18, the thinking is that such behavior may be simply bullying, but at age 18 and older, it could be harassment and cyber harassment."

"Basically we refer students to report all such incidents to the University Police. We want to get the action on the record, particularly if it is happening frequently or is pervasive. We get the campus police involved if the activity is going on on campus, or the Slippery Rock Borough Police or Pennsylvania State Police if the activity is off campus," she said.

"We may find the activity is a violation of the SRU Code of Conduct, or may be an act of criminal harassment or stalking. Either way we take it very seriously," Datt said.

"The best advice to give to students who feel they are being harassed is to report it to an authority. Talk to a CA [community assistant in the residence hall system]. Reach out to someone; University Police, so that we may address the situation immediately," she said.

Datt said many of the incidents seen among college students involve former friendships or former partnerships. "The people have gone their separate ways, but one makes a comment about the other, possibly online, and then others join in with other comments - building a form of bullying or harassment," she said.

"Someone writes, 'You should kill that person,' and may or may not mean it, but it affects the person named. People write stupid things. Comments between two roommates play out on FaceBook or Twitter and soon there is a case for harassment. We certainly understand free speech rights, but we urge people to be cautious when making statements online," she said.

"We urge involving University Police and letting them investigate to determine the intent of the comments and to see if a legitimate threat is involved," Datt said.

On-campus cases involving threats or harassment can lead to expulsion from the University, she said. "Some cases may result in the student undergoing an educational discussion to being placed on probation, possibly in addition to criminal charges."

"I can say we have seen a rise in harassment, including cyber-harassment in recent years, she said. "And actually it is about even across the sexes."

Following closely behind, Datt said, is an increase in "No Contact Orders," under which students are forbidden to have contact. The orders indicate to students that they are not to have contact with each other, and are only issued if certain criteria are met. "The number of No Contact Orders we have issued has more than doubled in recent years," Datt said.

Marcie Johnson, a communication major from Ingomar and a community senator in Student Government Association, said SGA is involved in fighting bullying on campus and will show the feature film "Bully" at 4 p.m., today, in the Smith Student Center Theater and at 9:30 p.m., today in the Aebersold Student Recreation Center. Both programs will be followed with joint projects planned by residence life, SRU's Hope Peer educators program and the SRU Women's Center, VOICe and the SRU Counseling Center.

"We really want to help raise awareness about bullying on campus, and we want to provide education. We think it is important to raise awareness so it [bullying] will decrease at SRU," she said.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.