Graduate students face bullying concerns

The University of Minnesota is taking action to address a previously unacknowledged problem in graduate schools: bullying.

Cody Vanasse

Students and faculty at the University of Minnesota are working to improve student bullying issues, prompted by a University-sponsored report addressing the problem of graduate student bullying on campus. The survey reported graduate students face bullying from three main sources âÄî faculty, fellow students and graduate advisors âÄî and are bullied through verbal hostility, negative personal affronts and hostile electronic communication. The Office for Conflict Resolution , the Student Conflict Resolution Center and a host of other graduate-related organizations have combined efforts to address bullying in the Graduate School. âÄúI donâÄôt think [bullying] is new behavior,âÄù Director of the Office for Conflict Resolution Carolyn Chalmers said. âÄúBut I do think we are becoming increasingly aware that if [bullying] goes unaddressed, it can cause serious harm.âÄù In 2007, the UniversityâÄôs Student Conflict Resolution Center, led by Director Jan Morse , conducted a survey on graduate student bullying. Morse began noticing an increase in graduate student bullying in 2006 but could not find literature on the issue. The survey found 19.2 percent of surveyed graduate students had been victims of harassment , and 16.2 percent of students had observed harassment. Of the approximately 2,000 respondents, 83 percent of students who encountered harassment issues felt the problem interfered with their ability to work or study , and nearly half of harassed students considered leaving the University as a result. âÄúWe wanted to focus on the causes, how to address and how to deal [with graduate student harassment],âÄù Morse said. âÄúWe received about 15 pages single-spaced of comments.âÄù To help promote awareness and prevent bullying, the Student Conflict Resolution Center and Office for Conflict Resolution hope to develop simple, straightforward action steps that victims of bullying and advisors dealing with complaints can use. Orientation for new graduate students now includes information from the Student Conflict Resolution Center addressing bullying, and school officials are also receiving training on how to handle and prevent bullying. The Conflict Resolution Center offers counseling to students dealing with harassment issues, but Morse said many of the students who had previously approached the center with bullying problems did not fill out the survey out of possible fear of professional or academic consequences. This may have contributed to an underestimation of the gravity of the graduate student bullying issue. Many graduate students dealing with bullying situations, Morse said, feel threatened and fear that if they do report instances of harassment, their future careers will suffer. âÄúIt doesnâÄôt take much to destroy the career of a young grad student,âÄù said Nathan Clough , a graduate student and member on the Conflict Resolution CenterâÄôs work group committee aimed at âÄúfostering academic excellence by promoting civil and respectful relationships through effective prevention of and response to hostile, offensive or intimidating behavior.âÄù Those dealing with professional conflicts face a unique dilemma. Many graduate students hold careers as research or teaching assistants, creating an overlap in their academic and professional lives. Graduate student advisors and faculty can serve as both academic mentors and professional supervisors, creating an uncertain relationship. Graduate students need their advisorâÄôs approval both academically and professionally, Clough said, in order to get the research opportunities and recommendations they will need later on in their professional lives. âÄúA lot of students are afraid that if they stand up theyâÄôll get blacklisted,âÄù Clough said. âÄúThere arenâÄôt really any resources to protect [students who speak out].âÄù Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart said that he is pleased the University can be on the forefront of this issue but that there is âÄúno real simple answer.âÄù âÄúOn one hand, we wish there werenâÄôt any students dealing with [bullying],âÄù Rinehart said. âÄúBut on the other hand, this study gives us a good benchmark so we can take action to improve.âÄù