Putting an End to Bullying at CSU

Continuing CSU's efforts to protect students and employees from bullying, President Wayne Watson recently penned an Op-Ed piece which appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times to discuss the reasons for and importance of CSU's new anti-bullying policies.

Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago State University recently took significant steps to protect students and employees on campus by adopting an anti-bullying policy. In response, two faculty members filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the policy is “aimed at squelching criticism” and that their First Amendment rights are somehow violated by the University’s efforts to put an end to bullying. The misleading statements in the lawsuit and in public forums deserve a response.

Like any university, CSU is a place where students come for intellectual development and growth. Our students and our faculty have a number of expectations and rights, which we must and will preserve. CSU’s new anti-bullying policy, adopted by its board of trustees in May 2014, in no way limits anyone’s First Amendment rights. What it does do is help to ensure a campus environment that allows individuals to learn, work and share their perspectives without fear of harassment.

The university’s anti-bullying policy was initiated in response to concerns brought forth by students and employees. Among those:

  • An LGBT student being bullied by fellow students, forcing administrators to intervene.
  • A faculty member being harassed by a disruptive student.
  • Student body leaders targeted for harassment by a small group of faculty and students for their refusal to join in protests against the administration.
  • Students in classes taught by the same small group of faculty who felt particularly vulnerable to retribution as the instructors held considerable influence over students in terms of grades, graduation and acceptance into graduate school.

Additionally, at the March 7, 2014, Board of Trustees meeting, a student trustee gave a passionate recounting of his own experience of bullying/harassment on campus.

If one was to follow the logic of those who mischaracterize anti-bullying policies, then any student or employee of a university must allow themselves to be subjected to any level of verbal or emotional harassment without protection. In that world, a student who is feeling threatened or is crying out for help must simply take the abuse, because someone else’s perceived rights are more important than the right to live, learn, and work in a safe environment. On behalf of the Chicago State University family, I refuse to accept that we must sit idly by while students and employees are bullied and while the university community is put in harm’s way.

Ironically, one of the very same faculty members named as a plaintiff in the federal suit thought that campus anti-harassment policies were valid enough that he previously filed his own complaint.

Administrators investigated that incident as they would any other and took appropriate action. But the blatant contradiction begs the question as to the real motivation behind this challenge to CSU’s anti-bullying policy.

Research clearly indicates that persistent bullying leads to feelings of isolation, rejection, depression and anxiety. The National School Safety Center has reported that 87 percent of students involved in school shootings are motivated by a desire to “get back at those who have hurt them.” In multiple news reports, bullying has been linked to instances of suicide, violent retribution and other tragic effects.

Throughout the nation, the very real effects of bullying have come to light and revealed that institutions must do more to prevent the dire consequences resulting from unchecked bullying/harassment. In many cases, it was not until after the damage was done that officials acted.

The job of university president bears a great deal of responsibility, particularly in the realm of providing an environment where students and employees are safe. A president’s worst nightmare is that of receiving a 3 a.m. phone call informing him/her that a bullied student has shot someone. CSU has repeatedly been ranked one of the safest campuses in Illinois and I thank God I have not received such a tragic call, but it doesn’t mean I don’t think every day about how to prevent it. As real Chicagoans know, CSU is a valued and impactful university, which plays a vital role in educating the next generation of leaders in a variety of fields. Faculty, staff and students at CSU have worked hard to make it a quality university and we will not allow anyone to create an unsafe environment. We do not intend to wait until the phone rings with the reality that one of our own has been hurt or killed. We choose to act now in defense of our students and employees.

Wayne D. Watson is president of Chicago State University