The Ubiquity of Bullying

In the last month alone, I have been confronted anew with the ubiquity of bullying:

In July I attended the annual conference of the (American) Council of Writing Program Administrators in Baltimore, Maryland, where there is a new strand on Self Care. A plenary in that strand featured female writing program administrators bravely discussing the impact of bullying and trauma in their personal and professional lives.

Before my trip to the US, I’d visited my female GP, who confided that over half the mental health patients she treats are from nursing, where bullying is apparently rife. She added that apart from mental health, bullying can wreak havoc on blood pressure and cholesterol levels and impact sleep patterns.

On my first day back on campus after my trip, while walking to my car parked in the Law Building, I passed a symposium in progress entitled “Confronting Bullying in the Legal Professions.”

And catching up on my favourite journalist Jane Caro’s Facebook page, I was horrified to read her recent article on the growing epidemic of female school principals being bullied by parents. One such principal was sandwiched in a door jamb and badly injured in her attempt to escape an irate father.

So while this project focuses explicitly on bullying and trauma in higher education, the problem clearly isn’t confined to our sector but is rather a growing societal concern.

All of these examples have confirmed yet again how timely this work is, but they have also left me wondering anew about what motivates bullies. Is it a particular personality type? an inferiority complex? pressure? fear of failure or competition? lack of work/life balance in the fast-paced juggling acts that now define our lives? Or maybe a general lack of self-esteem and/or good communication skills? Or could it be some combination of all of these? We are determined, through our shared stories, to uncover as much as possible about the motivation(s) for bullying, while collaboratively contemplating possible responses and solutions.

Lisa had a particularly encouraging conversation with a prospective contributor on the importance of forming strong collaborative networks as a means of avoiding the traps of bullies. With the focus on collaborative research at an all-time high in academic institutions around the world, it seems that research productivity, sustainability, and longevity may well be secondary benefits of such practice, behind the more personal advantages of increased stamina and resilience that come from belonging to a protective, nurturing community.

Over the past months, Lisa and I have spoken with many strong women with compelling (and often heartbreaking) stories to tell, but it seems the more women we meet and the more stories we hear, the more questions that remain unanswered. For that reason, we are hoping to hear from as many more of you as possible before the end of the year. Please be in touch to confirm your place in this important work, which is bound to become a meaningful resource for collectively confronting and resisting a rampant, destructive phenomenon, not only in higher education, but in our daily lives.

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