Bulling in Graduate School: Its Nature and Effects

By Gentry, Rachel H.; Whitley, Bernard E., Jr. | The Qualitative Report, September 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

Bulling in Graduate School: Its Nature and Effects


Gentry, Rachel H., Whitley, Bernard E., Jr., The Qualitative Report


Bullying is a pervasive problem in elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and workplaces (American Educational Research Association [AERA], 2013; Cooper, Einarsen, Hoel, & Zapf, 2003) worldwide. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and overall poor psychosocial adjustment are some of the negative outcomes of being either a bully or a victim (Espelage & Swearer, 2003; Flaspohler, Elfstrom, Vanderzee, & Sink, 2009; Nansel et al., 2001). These deleterious effects of bullying can negatively affect interpersonal and work relationships both in the short term and later in life (Craig & Pepler, 2007).

Although researchers have proposed a number of definitions of bullying based on the environment in which the behavior occurs and the age of the people involved (Craig & Pepler, 2007), these definitions overlap considerably. For example, school-aged bullying involves the intentional, repetitive targeting of an individual who has less power or control than the perpetrator (Olweus, 1993). In research on bullying in college, the definition specifically includes verbal and physical attacks, obscene gestures, and ostracism (Chapell et al., 2004). In the workplace, bullying is often termed mobbing or workplace victimization, and involves an individual using position power to gain an advantage over another person through purposeful, repetitive coercive tactics (Vredenburgh & Brender, 1998).

Instead of redefining bullying for each age range or environment, some researchers (e.g., Faris & Felmlee, 2011) suggest using the more general, inclusive term of aggression, or behaviors directed toward a person or group of people for the purpose of inflicting physical or emotional harm (Kinney, 2007). In addition to these more overt forms of aggression, Sue (2010) has proposed the concept of microaggressions, which consist of frequent verbal and behavioral communications, intentional or unintentional, that are hostile or derogatory to a target person. Although microaggression research has generally focused on the experiences of minority populations defined by gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, microaggressions may occur more generally. For example, Cortina, Magley, Williams and Langhout (2001) found that 23% of a sample of employees had experienced at least one form of microaggression (not including sexual harrassment) in the workplace during the five years prior to the research. A general definition of bullying, therefore, would encompass behaviors that are overtly or covertly aggressive, purposeful, repetitive, and involve an abuse of power.

Although one might expect adults to be more psychologically resiliant than children and therefore more resistant to the effects of bullying, research shows that such is not the case. For example, victims of college and workplace bullying experience increases in stress (Newman, Holden, & Delville, 2011) and health problems (Dehue, Bolman, Vollink, Trijnje, & Poulwelse, 2012; Lee & Brotheridge, 2006) and decreases in overall psychological wellbeing (Dehue et al., 2012; O'Driscoll et al., 2011). Behaviorally, bullied individuals exhibit an increase in absenteeism (Dehue et al., 2012) and a decrease in the quality of their work performance (O'Driscoll et al., 2011). Finally, adults who are bullied are at risk for becoming bullies themselves (Lee & Brotheridge, 2006).

In addition to the workplace, another area of adult endeavor is graduate school. Although graduate school often serves as a bridge between undergraduate education and the workplace, the experiences in the two educational settings differ greatly. Undergraduate education provides a baseline breadth of knowledge and skills, largely accrued through textbooks and lectures. In graduate school, students are expected to handle more intellectually challenging coursework while adding new responsibilities such as assisting with faculty research, teaching courses to meet assistantship requirements, and beginning to develop their own research (Wisker, Robinson, Trafford, Warnes, & Creighton, 2003). …

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