Oct 24, 2012    #137
Contact: John Martellaro
(816) 235-1592

Bullying Occurs at Every Level, Including College

One of the first studies on the topic to be presented at Kansas City conference

Bullying occurs at every level of human interaction, from the elementary school playground to the adult workplace. For Dan Weddle, the question wasn't whether bullying also occurs in higher education; it was, why should we ever expect that it wouldn't?

Weddle, a professor in the School of Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, started asking the question after a middle school bullying incident in his family drew him to the body of published research on bullying. As someone who worked in higher education, he perused the literature looking for studies on prevalence and impact at that level.

He didn't find any. Experts in the field told him that was a significant gap. Weddle set out to address it. He worked with Jeff Traiger, assistant dean of students at UMKC, to develop and conduct one of the first surveys of bullying behavior in higher education that extended beyond "cyber-bullying" to in-person interactions.

Traiger will present preliminary results of their study at the upcoming International Bullying Prevention Association's annual conference in Kansas City November 4-6. Weddle is co-chair of the conference. The conference program is available at

The conference will also include a panel discussion of one of the highest-profile examples of college-level bullying: the Tyler Clementi tragedy at Rutgers University. Clementi committed suicide after being surreptitiously filmed having romantic relations with another man. The panel will include Rutgers in-house counsel, as well as three top level administrators who were deeply involved in responding to the tragedy.

Weddle and Traiger conducted their research close to home. Believing that a law school presents a "perfect storm" of the kind of interpersonal dynamics that drive bullying in both the workplace and the K-12 education system, Weddle asked UMKC Law School Dean Ellen Suni to approve a survey of students at the school.

"Her decision to allow this was courageous," Weddle said. "The only people who will do anything about this issue in any setting, including higher ed, are those with the courage to examine what's happening in their own environment to find out what's really going on."

What he and Traiger found was a level of "peer mistreatment" slightly below levels typically found in adult workplaces and K-12 schools. The term "peer mistreatment" is used in many studies because people often resist admitting to perpetrating, witnessing or enduring "bullying."

A little more than half the students responded to the survey, and 47 percent said they were the victim of at least one episode of peer mistreatment as students; 62 percent reported either witnessing or enduring mistreatment on a weekly basis.

In most cases, Weddle and Traiger said, the mistreatment was psychological or emotional, not physical. It can take the form of humiliation, exclusions from activities or information, and even feeding false information to another student in a form of sabotage.

"One of the hardest things is for a victim to get their concerns validated, because these kinds of actions are highly interpretable," Traiger said.

The conference will provide a full slate of sessions on topics such as bullying, hazing, incivility, and harassment in classrooms, professional schools, athletic programs, residential settings, and the Greek system. The sessions will have a strong emphasis on prevention and response. Several sessions will focus on the legal implications of peer-on-peer abuse among college students.

Keynote sessions will be presented by Debra Chasnoff, an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and co-creator of GroundSpark's "Respect for All Project"; and authors Stan Davis ("Schools Where Everyone Belongs" and "Empowering Bystanders in Bullying Prevention") and Charisse Nixon (co-author, "Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying").

About the University of Missouri-Kansas City

The University of Missouri-Kansas City, one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 15,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a four-part mission: life and health sciences; visual and performing arts; urban issues and education; and a vibrant learning and campus life experience. For more information about UMKC, visit You can also find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and watch us on YouTube.

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This information is available to people with speech or hearing impairments by calling Relay Missouri at (800) 735-2966 (TT) or (800) 735-2466 (voice).


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