Staff adrift over how to handle cyberbullying

Many university employees say their institution has no policy on how to tackle online abuse

May 14, 2015

A lack of preparation within universities is leaving staff unclear about how to deal with cyberbullying among students.

This is according to research by Julie Luker, an EdD candidate at Hamline University in St Paul, Minnesota, who surveyed 384 higher education employees in 47 US states and found that less than 20 per cent of participants believed their institution to be “completely prepared” to handle cyberbullying.

The research found that most survey participants perceived cyberbullying to be a problem in higher education but understood it poorly.

“At this point, I do not think that institutions adequately comprehend the realities of cyberbullying,” Dr Luker said. “Survey participants perceive cyberbullying to be more of a problem at other institutions than at their own institution. If everyone feels this way, clearly not everyone can be right.”

She told Times Higher Education that the most disturbing incident she had heard of was the 2010 tragedy at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, in which a freshman, Tyler Clementi, killed himself after discovering that his roommate had set up a hidden camera and streamed his sexual encounters online.

“Cyberbullying commonly includes harassing or threatening messages, images or video directed at a victim through an online medium”, Dr Luker said. “These messages are particularly damaging because of their potential to be viewed and shared by countless other online users within a very short period of time. Unfortunately, as technology evolves, so do the avenues through which cyberbullying can occur.”

An absence of formal institutional policies – or staff’s lack of awareness of such policies – was also a concern, Dr Luker said. Interviews with six university employees conducted as part of the research found that “very few” had any knowledge of their institution’s cyberbullying policy, and “not one respondent was able to tell me how her institution expected [cyberbullying] to be handled” if it were to occur.

“There was no consistency in the process. In my opinion, this detracts from the institution’s ability to adequately protect students,” she said.

chris.parr@tesglobal.com

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