LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 23, 2013) — Bully – to intimidate, overawe, treat abusively
Hazing – to intimidate a newcomer with abusive or humiliating tricks or ridicule
Bullying and hazing may be defined a bit differently, but there is a common thread —intimidation — and the University of Kentucky and its Division of Student Affairs take intimidation very seriously.
“I don’t object to using intimidation as the common thread between bullying and hazing,” said Associate Dean of Students Dana Walton-Macaulay. “I would say the key difference between the two is that hazing is a group activity, and bullying is an individual activity. Other than that, they look the same.”
And probably feel the same to the target. Those victims run the gamut of humanity — from the kindergarten girl who is teased about her red hair, to the freshman member of an elite college band, from the new employee in a close-knit doctor’s office, to the elderly man languishing in a sub-par nursing home.
Hazing and bullying “share so many similarities in terms of their consequences,” said Tony Ralph, director of Residence Life. “If someone who’s not a ‘member’ or is not included in the community has to go through suffering because of that fact, it can have a grave influence on the person’s feelings of inclusion and safety.”
For several years now, UK has been involved in higher education’s discussions of bullying and hazing, gradually developing a solid national reputation for battling such hurtful, occasionally lethal intimidations. In 2011, UK’s University Hazing Coalition rewrote the University Hazing Prevention Policy to protect all students, employees and visitors, stating plainly “the University does not tolerate hazing activities by any members of the University Community.” UK soon received the Innovation in Campus Hazing Prevention and Education Award. The award enabled the coalition to build a website about hazing. UK has since become a partner in the Hazing Research and Prevention Consortium Project at the University of Maine. Now, for the second time in as many years, UK will host the Novak Institute for Hazing Prevention annual meeting June 5-8.
There is an excellent reason for this flurry of activity. “We do not want to wait for an incident or event to force us to address hazing at UK,” said Vinny Sandy, assistant director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, “but we want to work to prevent this behavior proactively.”
Because the nationally touted “Green Dot” violence-prevention program was created at UK, it felt natural to apply peer intervention techniques already familiar to students. “The ‘Green Dot’ approach,” said Sandy, “is a way to educate a person that they can take action to stop, reduce or prevent a harmful situation from occurring, and that they do have a responsibility to intervene. This can relate to hazing, bullying, power-based personal violence and many other situations."
And if campus safety is not a reason good enough to focus on the elimination of hazing and bullying, there’s always student success.
“At UK, retention and academic success are at the forefront of what matters. Hazing and bullying are diametrically opposed to these very fundamental goals,” Ralph said, adding that the advisors in the campus residence halls make sure students “know we don’t tolerate this behavior. From the day students first move in, we communicate that harassing behaviors will not be accepted.”
Ralph remembered a recent incident in an undergraduate residence hall when a male student was harassed by derogatory signs on his door. Staff members made it clear during the next floor meeting that such behavior would not be tolerated. After the meeting, one of the staff members put up a huge poster near the front door of the residence hall. The poster said, ‘The residents of (residence hall name) will not accept the mistreatment of anyone in our building. Not in OUR hall!’ Each resident of the building signed the poster and it hung for weeks in the main lobby. This incident really moved me,” said Ralph, “and I think the resident felt very supported.”
Walton-Macaulay says she believes UK has been successful because Student Affairs and other groups on campus were “organized in our efforts to combat hazing ... because we recognized what a negative component it is” in the culture of higher education. UK’s solution was to create an honest, open dialogue with students and to involve them in creating a way to address it.
"What we learn from our conversations with students helps us design good policies and effective interventions," she said.
People can't be divided into two categories — that of bullies and bullied, said Walton-Macaulay. “I think there are at least three: bullies, bullied, and witnesses. It is pervasive, and I’m amazed at how my daughters have been forced to deal with it already. However, they were already educated about what bullying is, and how to deal with it. Hopefully, incoming students will be more and better equipped to deal with such instances.”