Reflection on the Rutgers bullying case
By Dr. Leah Hollis, author of Unequal Opportunity: Fired without cause? Filing with the EEOC…
As a Rutgers alumna I was asked today “what do you think of the sentencing of Dhuran Ravi for the cyber bullying incident of Tyler Clementi?” Ravi was originally facing up to 10 years in jail for a cyber bullying incident that led to Tyler Clementi committing suicide. Instead, Ravi faces 30 days in jail and a $10,000 fine. Was the sentence too light? Should the conviction be appealed? Is the isolation faced by Ravi the last 20 months already sufficient? Maybe some of the other questions we should ask, where do kids learn this behavior? Who teachers civility? How does this behavior continue to manifest as we supposedly grow up and into careers?
I had to pause. I am a 20 plus year veteran of student services, and worked in academic affairs and students affairs. I have seen the best and worst of student behavior at some of the most elite campuses. The antics of any dorm life can shame unwitting bystanders. In this case however, a young man is dead, and the lives of the three students, (remember the hall mate Molly Wei who hosted the webcam) are irrevocably changed. Therefore I initially say the obvious, no one is a winner.
Our society is chocked full of competitive and negative behaviors where decency is the least of concerns. We learn competition and incivility from the school play yard when someone was berated for being weaker, smaller, younger or just different than the mainstream. Remember the days were students would race at the school bell to see who won the latest skirmish. The battle cry FIGHT FIGHT?!? would bring a small troop of prepubescent spectators to witness the latest bullying battle. On a smaller scale, it was nothing for kids to punch, kick and push others, regardless of gender. What we learned in kindergarten is often carried through our school years and college. Further, such behavior moves with us into middle age and our professional lives. And consistent with the current behaviors regarding bullying, people at one time or another tend to be on both the giving and receiving end of this behavior.
As the last few years of media coverage have confirmed that bullying affects all age groups. Youngsters in grade school and high school are facing bullying; as a result several states have anti bullying state wide policies. New Jersey has one of the strictest anti bullying school policies in the nation. On the heels of the Tyler Clementi tragedy, Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2011 was introduced in Congress to protect university students from harassment and bullying. . In the face of pervasive workplace bullying, 18 states have proposed healthy workplace bills to stem the insulting, intimidating and socially isolating behavior in the workplace which defines bullying.
The unfortunate behavior continues however every day at all levels as bullying pervades school yards, college campus and the workplace. Peers bully peers; and bosses bully staff. The results come in health issues, social isolation, costly disengagement; and at all age group levels, suicide has been an last ditch option tragically sought by the target to escape the tyranny. Over half of school aged children reported witnessing bullying in school. This number is consistent with the workplace bullying reports. School aged children, like adults, disengage from a toxic environment through sick days. One in ten students drop out of school because of bullying; this is synonymous with the 25% of adult bullying targets who leave organizations after enduring treatment from a bullying. The trends are at all age levels as there is nothing new under the sun because many people will do just about anything to escape constant torment. Nonetheless, the behaviors and tragedies in youthful age groups also manifest in the workplace as well.
So in reflecting back on Dhuran Ravi and Tyler Clementi, their names will be inextricable tied as a college bullying tragedy where one young man lost his life that late night on the George Washington Bridge and another had his image paraded through the media nationally that he will spend close to a life time recovering from the stigma. Both families are devastated, a young man is dead and a college community left shell shocked about the loss in its community so early in their careers.
Perhaps the questions should not revolve around the after math of a tragic case, but in consideration on how to model civility and decency from our youth. People only grow up to be bigger versions of themselves. Consequently, in all cases of bullying, regardless of age group, school yard or workplace, no one is a winner.
Dr. Leah Hollis, President of Patricia Berkly LLC is a diversity and healthy workplace trainer based in greater Philadelphia. Her book Fired without Cause, Filing with the EEOC is available on Amazon.com. Her second study on workplace bullying in higher education is in progress for summer 2012. She has been a contributor to ERE.net, Payscale, and AOLJobs/Huffington Post. Visit her at www.diversitytrainingconsultants.com