Indiana State University Newsroom

Bullying still occurs in college, professors find

October 20, 2011

Research conducted by professors at Indiana State University shows that bullying and cyberbullying doesn't come to an end with high school.

"We hoped that maturity happens at some point," said Bridget Roberts-Pittman, assistant professor of counseling. "But is an 18-year-old senior any different than an 18-year-old college freshman?"

Roberts-Pittman and Christine MacDonald, professor of educational and school psychology, said little research has been conducted on bullying and cyberbullying among college students. They decided to help fill in that gap.

"We got into looking at college students because there are studies on elementary, junior high, high school and the workplace," MacDonald said. "There's nothing on colleges. It doesn't just stop when they turn 18."

In the study, MacDonald and Roberts-Pittman found that almost 22 percent of college students reported being cyberbullied while 15 percent reported being bullied. Cyberbullying occurs when new technology such as social networking , text messaging or instant messaging is used to harass others with harmful text or images. Bullying is defined as when a person attacks another verbally, attacks another physically, makes obscene gestures or intentionally isolates another from a social group.

The study also showed that 38 percent of students knew someone who had been cyberbullied while almost 9 percent reported cyberbullying someone else. Comparatively, research on kindergarten through 12th grade students suggests that as many as 25 percent of school age children have reported being cyberbullied and also 25 percent report that they have cyberbullied another student.

"You'd normally think that wouldn't happen," MacDonald said regarding the students reporting their own cyberbullying. "The real number may be higher."

Of college students who reported being cyberbullied, 25 percent reported being harassed through a social networking site, 21 percent reported that they received harmful text messages, 16 percent receiving such harmful communication through e-mail, and 13 percent through instant messages.

"You don't have to be the biggest or the strongest or have the best clothes, now you can say, ‘I have a keyboard,'" Roberts-Pittman said about cyberbullying.

In bullying, 42 percent reported seeing someone being bullied by another student while about 8 percent reported bullying another student. Additionally, almost 15 percent reported seeing a professor bully a student while 4 percent reported that they had been bullied by a professor.

"Students who are different in some way seem to be singled out. If it's by ethnicity or sexual orientation, we don't know. We don't have enough data," MacDonald said.

Universities and colleges must take steps to create safe environments, according to the professors.

"We really believe there's a whole dimension to bullying from minor rude behavior like not saying hello to assault at the other end," MacDonald said. "By intervening at minor behaviors, we can stop more severe negative behaviors."

Intervention must take place from the residence halls to the classrooms.

"We recommend trying to change the climate," Roberts-Pittman said.

From kindergarten through 12th grade research, they know that anti-bullying measures only work when its enforced systemwide, and the researchers recommend that happen at universities as well.

"We must insist on civil and respectful behavior," MacDonald said.

They said those being bullied, must come forward and speak out about it.

"Keep talking about it until someone is willing to do something," MacDonald said.

They also suggested recruiting allies to have someone advocate for them whether it's a resident assistant, student ombudsman or a professor.

"Come forward," Roberts-Pittman said.

Christine MacDonald, Indiana State University, professor of educational and school psychology, 812-237-7787 or

Bridget Roberts-Pittman, Indiana State University, assistant professor of counseling, 812-237-4593 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, 812-237-7972 or