UNL research finds bullying at all ages

On the border of Texas and Mexico, a young boy in El Paso learned how to navigate an environment of drugs, gangs, divorced parents and bullying. Now he’s a doctoral student and Hack Harassment Campus Ambassador at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His name is Raul Palacios.

Palacios was just nerdy enough to hang with the cool and smart kids and athletic enough to play basketball with the jocks. He found a way to coexist between different groups. He accomplished this until meeting his first bully in middle school.

This bully targeted Palacios, ramming his head against the vending machines and threatening to kill his family. Palacios said thankfully the bully did nothing worse than that.

Today, bullying comes in many forms and isn’t just seen in middle school. According to Susan Swearer, professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, researchers focused on the middle school years initially because that’s where they saw a peak in bullying.

To raise awareness about the harm of bullying as well as to promote a more inclusive, supportive online community, Palacios coordinated HackUNL. The event, sponsored by the College of Education and Human Sciences, challenges people to develop creative ways to counteract an ever expanding definition of bullying.

“People are viewing bullying as a behavior that can exist in Kindergarten and as old as retirement communities. It really isn’t a behavior that goes away,” Swearer said.

Palacios and Swearer noted that as one gets older, bullying is often seen in more subtle forms with microaggressions and comments. It can happen in the workplace with co-workers and in nursing homes. Bullying can be seen in a verbal, physical, relational or electronic way, but Swearer said only three of these are commonly seen in a college setting.

“Probably on college campuses, electronic, verbal and relational are the most common,” Swearer said. “It can be seen as overt, but a lot of times bullying is covert so it can be really hard to detect. Really only until a person talks to someone or shares their experience is it easier to detect.”

Although bullying is mostly covert these days, Swearer said at UNL students might see an overt form of bullying within the Greek system called hazing. Swearer said hazing has two common elements featured in bullying: a longing to belong and a feeling of power.

Although Palacios didn’t witness hazing personally, he had friends in the Greek system who did.

“You know with hazing sometimes students want to be there so they think if they make it past this threshold, it’s a rite of passage,” Palacios said. “We see these things on ‘Animal House,’ and it’s funny because we think these things don’t happen anymore, but they do.”

Similar to those who initiate hazing, bullies flourish off of power. Palacios said politicians often make a huge difference in whether certain groups of people are bullied.

“When you get to politics, it’s about power and some candidates use it more than others. I think sometimes the way they use it, really limits and marginalizes a lot of minorities and groups in America,” Palacios said.

President Donald Trump’s threat to build a wall personally affected Palacios’s life since he lived on the Mexico/Texas border. He said the language toward undocumented immigrants didn’t start until someone said it at a high level with a lot of power both monetarily and politically.

“Tolerance is really important. It’s OK to have different emotions and feelings toward things,” Palacios said. “It’d be great if people came with an intent to make things better, instead of seeing what they can get out of it.”

Swearer said that to target bullying on campus, having interventions and raising awareness of the different resources provided are ways to improve the issue in the future.

“We want to help these kids see that there’s other ways of interacting and more prosocial ways in the long run we know is going to be more beneficial for them,” Swearer said.