By Rory Noble
The La Grande community knows better than most the possible results of unchecked intimidation and bullying. Jaden Bell’s tragic suicide still lingers in the hearts and minds of many. To think that intimidation and bullying are not present in La Grande and at EOU is naïve and unwise.
Information is one of the keys in understanding intimidation’s emotional power and learning how to reduce that power.
EOU has a system in place for determining harassment, intimidation and bullying against students and faculty or staff as well. The Student Code of Conduct implicitly states under OAR 579-040-0005 that: “Physical or written/verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion, bullying, or other conduct directed at a specific person, which threatens the health and safety of any person or seriously alarms or intimidates another person is prohibited.”
Similar actions involving abuse, intimidation or bullying via Internet sources are also prohibited. Additionally, remarks, actions or gestures that are used with the intent of creating an intimidating or hostile campus living and/or academic environment are prohibited.
Behaviors involving harassment, intimidation and bullying reflect negatively upon the university as a whole. These actions are in opposition of EOU’s mission, which includes the statement: “EOU guides student inquiry through integrated, high-quality liberal arts and professional programs that lead to responsible and reflective action in a diverse and interconnected world.”
President Bob Davies said, “We as a university community will not tolerate hostile or bullying tactics at any level. While we may disagree and debate issues, this must be done with respect to differing views and with collegiality.”
While intimidation and bullying are similar, there are differences between the two that distinguish one from the other. Intimidation is a behavior that might make a reasonable person fear immediate injury or harm, but violence does not always play into that behavior. The “threat” or “fear” of harm is more often implied than real.
However, with bullying, actual physicality from the aggressor is often real. Pushing, grabbing and hitting are all tactics used when bullying occurs. The physical harm is often visible in bruises or scratches. The emotional harm of intimidation and bullying are often not seen by others until the victim feels they have no way to escape the abusive treatment. By then, often, the emotional trauma is too great for the victim to deal with it in a reasonable fashion.
Dr. Marianne Weaver of the EOU Counseling Center said, “Bullying and intimidating behavior is extremely abusive behavior because it assaults and then dismantles the very essence of a person; it erodes their spirit … the part of them the makes them alive; a unique person who wants to live.”
Weaver added, “Anxiety and depression are common responses to having been bullied/intimidated. Additionally, many folks who are bullied will internalize the external perpetration (in psychology we call this ‘identification with the perpetrator,’) and either act out the bullying behavior toward self (in the form of self-abuse/self-harm behaviors) or toward others (as a means of obtaining power in a place where they feel powerless and defenseless).”
There are procedures for reporting incidents involving harassment, intimidation or bullying at EOU. The first step in reporting these behaviors is understanding where people can turn for help.
Colleen Dunne-Cascio of the EOU Student Affairs Committee said, “If a student is indicating that they’re being bullied, then they’d want to come and visit with me, or anyone that they feel comfortable with in the university system.” Dunne-Cascio added that the student may eventually speak with Director of Human Services Art Doherty if the bullying is from a faculty or staff member.
Dunne-Cascio and Doherty both spoke about gathering as much information as possible from the person reporting the incident. Then, if they felt they had ample information to investigate further, they would contact the university president or provost and request to proceed with an investigation.
Doherty said, “As far as employees, we have multiple types of employees. Each is governed by different documentation. That’s just the first layer.” Doherty mentioned that the state or federal government could also be involved with investigating reports of intimidation or bullying based on the employee involved.
“I think the critical issue is that we need to be notified,” Dunne-Cascio added. If no one on campus is notified, then the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may step in and ask if something is being done on something reported directly to them.
Usually the EEOC asks that campus officials investigate such incidents, even if the reporting person has bypassed that step. “Unless it is horrendous in nature, they (the EEOC) say ‘this is your formal notification; execute whatever you need to do. We expect to see your results in (x) amount of time,’ which is usually 10 days,” Doherty stated.
Student Affairs and Human Resources share much of the investigation duties with bullying or intimidation cases at EOU because it “crosses boundaries” between the two. Both departments place the highest priority on preserving the rights of each individual involved and remaining neutral throughout the investigation process.
If the investigation brings enough evidence to conclude a hearing is necessary, then either the Senior Hearings Officer or the Student Hearings Committee will hear the case. The respondent then receives all relevant information regarding the hearing and reference to the particular section(s) of the Student Code of Conduct that is/are allegedly violated.
The respondent also has the right to have an adviser, the opportunity to review all information and the opportunity to have witnesses relevant to the case on hand. There is also an appeal process available.
The complainant’s rights also include accompaniment by an adviser if requested. Also, the right to present their side of the story in a separate room and submit an impact statement for consideration during the sanctioning phase of the process is available.
Possible punishments include mandated counseling or treatment, mandatory educational activities or restitution reimbursement. Other sanctions include a warning, probation, loss of privileges, suspension or expulsion from EOU. Revocation of admission and/or degree and withholding of a degree are potential penalties as well.
Common myths about intimidation and bullying often keep victims from reporting incidents. Thinking that ignoring bullying will make it go away is among these myths. Ignoring the problem often makes the situation worse for the victim. It sends a message to the bully that the victim is unable or unwilling to do anything about the behavior. It also gives the bully a sense of satisfaction.
Intimidation, harassment and bullying don’t just happen. Each is an intentional act, done willfully, knowingly and with the purpose of causing harm to the victim in some way. It is also important to consider the possible harm these behaviors have on other students, especially those who witness such acts.