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The fight against bullying

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

Making educational campuses bullying-free

Maya Angelou once said, “People may forget what you said, they may even forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Anyone who has ever been bullied will attest to the truth of those words. Being bullied leaves an emotional footprint on a person’s soul for a long time, and those who have been hurt by the words or actions of another never quite forget it.

The effect bullying has on a young person’s mind is particularly traumatic, because young people in their teens or twenties are often still developing a sense of self. Their self-image is in the process of being formed, and bullying can dent and damage that self-image badly. Sticks and stones may break one’s bones, but mean and hurtful words can break the spirit.

Bullying not only causes psychological trauma, it can even stunt a young person’s intellectual and academic growth. As Thomas Mawhinney and Laura Sagan, authors of The Power of Personal Relationships point out, “We now understand that higher-level thinking is more likely to occur in the brain of a student who is emotionally secure than in the brain of a student who is scared, upset, anxious, or stressed.”

The National Crime Bureau reports that 16,000 school students committed suicide in 2021 alone! Only 1600 of these were due to poor marks in exams. One shudders to think how many of those suicides were because of bullying!

Schools and colleges need to urgently focus on making their educational institutions emotionally safe spaces. Those who own, manage and work in educational institutions must understand that they have a moral responsibility to ensure the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of the young lives placed in their care, and not just their academic success.

There are many things educational institutions can do to stop bullying. Here are a few:

  • State in no uncertain terms – and not just once but many times over and across multiple platforms, both offline and on – that bullying in any shape or form will not be countenanced. Make a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying part of the ethos of the institution.

  • Take steps to educate both students and faculty on the topic. Conduct workshops and programmes for teachers and students on the topic, invite subject matter experts to talk about this egregious practice. (Buy-in from the teaching staff is particularly important.) Help everyone in the school to understand what bullying is, how it hurts and how it can be stopped.

  • Encourage and facilitate behaviour which is the psychological opposite of bullying. Expose students to positive role models regularly.

This will not be a quick and easy task, because bullying, unfortunately, is endemic to human society. But it is not an unwinnable battle. Remember the time when ‘ragging’ in colleges was an accepted rite of passage? While a little bit of good-natured ragging, no doubt, engendered bonhomie and camaraderie between juniors and the seniors, universities eventually came to realize that the dangers of ragging far outweighed any benefits. Ragging was finally outlawed, but not before it exacted a heavy toll on many young lives. Bullying, too, needs to be outlawed.

The problem with bullying, though, is that it is much more subtle. There are a thousand ways a student can be bullied. It can take place via racist slurs, unsavoury jokes or sexist comments, or even by acts of exclusion and ostracism. What is needed is a change of culture where empathy, and not exclusion, are the norm. Changing culture is not easy, but it can be done. Unfortunately, we now live in times when bullying has societal sanction, thanks in large part to much of the Indian media, which thinks nothing of demonizing and stereotyping those it has decided to target that day.

Nonetheless, a lot can be done to stop bullying:

  • Culture flows from the top, and for this reason, it is imperative that the senior management of any educational institution sets the standards, and supports and promotes positive and inclusive behaviour.

  • Teachers can set behavioural expectations at the starting of the academic term of what is acceptable behaviour in the classroom and on the campus, and what is not.

  • Educational institutions should take immediate and prompt action when an incident takes place, or is reported. They also need to set up Standard Operating Procedures to ensure the same.

  • Equally importantly, the ‘elders’ of an institution – the teachers -- can demonstrate model inclusive and respectful behaviour amongst each other. (One can be sure that genuine politeness and civility amongst the faculty will not be missed by the students, for as the great poet Edgar Guest once said, “The lectures you deliver may be very wise and true/ But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do.”)

And finally, schools and colleges must build into their schedules and curricula adequate spaces for activities, workshops and programmes that encourage and promote diversity, inclusion, dialogue and understanding between students.

Investing in training and awareness takes times and resources, but it is a worthwhile investment. As someone once wisely said, “It is better to build a fence at the top of the cliff than a hospital at the bottom.” Prevention and education are far, far better than grief!

(Rohit Kumar is an educator, author and journalist. He conducts workshops for high school and college students on leadership, emotional intelligence and the dangers of bullying. A licensed practitioner of internationally respected psychometrics like the MBTI® and the Strong Interest Inventory®, he helps young people find their way in life by helping them to understand themselves better. He also writes regularly for 'The Wire' on important societal issues and is the author of “Tales from the Jail — Christmas in Tihar & Other Stories”, a memoir of his work with prison inmates.)


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