Research has said that bullying affects 14% of students in Irish universities. With a total population of approximately 25,000 it is hard to imagine that bullying is not present here in UCD in one or more of its forms- physical, verbal, relational, cyber, prejudicial and exclusion- but according to many sources, it appears that bullying remains largely unreported by students in UCD.
UCD has no shortage of support structures and bodies ready to help the victims of bullying and harassment. From Please Talk to the UCD Counselling Service, the Welfare and Education Officers as well as Student Advisors, the UCD Chaplaincy and the LGBTQ+ Welfare Officer, a victim of bullying has many different bodies to seek help from. So with all this help and support structures in place, how big a problem can bullying be? “Based on my contact with students, I don’t think bullying is a big problem here,” says Kieran Maloney, a UCD Student Advisor. “Secondary schools have a more proactive approach to bullying than they used to, so students come to UCD with more of an awareness of what constitutes bullying and how it can affect people.”
UCD’s policy, On Harassment, Including Bullying, Sexual Harassment and Racism, defines bullying as “behaviour of a physical, verbal or a psychological nature which is unwanted and unwelcome and which could reasonably be regarded as offensive. The bully, intentionally or unintentionally, misuses the power of position, knowledge or personality to domineer, intimidate or humiliate others.” This document also provides definitions for harassment and sexual harassment and then detail the procedures it would take to prevent bullying and/or harassment as well as providing a list of support colleagues within UCD.
Maloney says he may come across an incident of bullying just two or three times a year in his role. Gillian Kingston, chaplaincy representative for Arts, Celtic Studies and Human Sciences, says that after seven years in her position no student has ever reported a case of bullying to her. “I have not either experienced or heard about bullying in UCD, but it would be naive to suppose the issue doesn’t exist. Bullying can be very subtle and people often suffer silently. This issue needs to be aired so that people are alert to it.” This either suggests that UCD has beaten the odds and incidents of bullying here are very rare, or that bullying in UCD goes by and large unreported and neglected.
Karen Mulligan, a representative of Niteline, a listening, support and information service run by and for students, would suggest that the latter is more likely. “Our statistics from 2012/2013 indicate that relationships/bullying (encompassing romantic relationships and family) make up 23% of our call volume. We record calls according to subject but this can be slightly inaccurate as most calls and online chat can encompass multiple issues, and only the primary and secondary issues are recorded.”
With all these helpful services available to students what happens if someone claims they have been bullied? Maloney explains his role as a Student Advisor, “First and foremost, my role is to listen – to offer space for someone to talk and to help them articulate how they are feeling… When people are being bullied they often feel helpless because they think they have no options, so my work with such students will focus on what options and choices exist for them. There are always options.”
Mulligan says more or less the same thing: “Our volunteers would help the caller in exploring their feelings with regard to the issue, and provide them a safe, empathetic environment in which to do so, and thus potentially touching on difficulties with peers, friends, roommates etc.” While Kingston says, “Should a student come to me about bullying, clearly, I would listen carefully; I would confer with colleagues on the chaplaincy team; in particular, I would confer with the relevant Student Advisor. If necessary, I would refer the student to the counselling service.” All say that they would focus on the feelings of the person being bullied and support them by listening.
None of these three bodies would force a student to admit who his/her perpetrators were. Maloney says, “Just because someone may come to a Student Adviser does not mean that they are making anything official. It’s important to remember that. Knowing that you can simply talk things through without it necessarily going any further is important. In fact, it’s in everyone’s best interest if a solution can be arrived at locally before an issue escalates.”
If a victim of bullying did decide to pursue a case of bullying there is a defined and strict structure in place which is clearly laid out in the UCD Policy On Harassment, Including Bullying, Sexual Harassment And Racism. First, if you wish to make a formal complaint you must do it in writing. This written document must contain details of the person(s) against whom the complaint is being made and details of the alleged acts. All formal complaints will be referred directly to an Assessor appointed by the President and investigated confidentially.
To this document Maloney adds, “As well as being covered by the Policy on Dignity and Respect, bullying is also considered a breach of discipline under the Student Code. The consequences of such breaches vary depending on the circumstances. The University can issue warnings, fines and in extreme cases students can be expelled from the University. It should be noted here, however, that all people involved in an allegation of bullying are treated fairly. There is no assumption of guilt simply because someone reports bullying. All processes, informal and formal, involve what’s known as the principles of natural justice – that is that all parties have the right to be heard and alleged perpetrators have the right to reply to allegations. The University takes very seriously allegations of bullying but it also takes very seriously the principle of fairness. It’s important for these two principles to coexist.”
UCD appears to cover the topic of bullying quite comprehensively but with one in seven university students across Ireland having been bullied while at college and one in five having witnessed incidents of bullying, it is quite unlikely that bullying is not an issue in UCD. Possibly the most damning statistic from the research was the fact that two thirds of university students didn’t know if their college had a policy on bullying. Perhaps this may explain why so few incidents are reported on campus.