Bullying at University

Getting advice and support

Estimated read: 7 minutes 

Going to university is a big deal and can be exciting as well as nerve-racking. It is a unique experience for many students as they move away from home, learn to become independent and develop necessary life skills. 

Key points: 

  • Experiencing bullying can cause many emotions and feelings. How a person responds to the bullying is often not a reflection of how they feel inside and some of these emotions can stay with them for the rest of their life
  • You may want to speak to someone at the university informally first, this could be your campus counsellor, personal tutor, student union representative, harassment adviser or any member of staff you feel comfortable with
  • If you are being bullied or intimidated, the university is obligated to safeguard your interests so that you can learn and enjoy your time in a safe, respectful environment
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Freshers can often find it overwhelming at first but soon seem to settle into student life. So what happens if you experience bullying at university? Where do you go for advice and support? How do you get it stopped? 

Types of bullying

Although there is no legal definition, bullying is a repetitive behaviour which is intended to hurt someone either emotionally or physically, and is often aimed at certain people because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation or any other aspect such as appearance or disability. Bullying can take many forms including:

Social and emotional - This can include excluding someone out on purpose, encouraging others not to be friends with them, spreading rumours and gossip, humiliating someone in front of others, making someone the butt of their jokes constantly.

Cyberbullying - This form of bullying takes place online via social networking sites, messaging apps, gaming sites and chat rooms. This can be fake profiles, negative comments intended to cause distress, sharing personal information without permission, stalking, harassment, trolling and spreading fake rumours.

Name calling - Verbal bullying is one of the most common forms of bullying and can include teasing, making derogatory remarks about appearance, taunting someone, making threats and using insults as a way of humiliating the other person.

Sexualised bullying – This can form of bullying can be extremely distressing and someone may feel silenced to report this because they feel violated and degraded. Example of this can include sexualised name calling and using insults about sexuality or supposed promiscuity, pressuring you to engage in sexting, sharing of intimate images, texts and videos, inappropriate sexual remarks and in its most extreme form, sexual assault or rape.

Physical – This form of bullying is when someone physically hurts another person. This can be through pushing, punching, kicking, biting, scratching, spitting and any other form of physical violence..

Bullying vs banter

It can be confusing for someone to try and work out whether the name calling is banter or bullying. A person experiencing this might feel intimidated or feel under pressure not to make a fuss because others are saying it is just banter.

If it is one off incident and not meant to cause harm, then it may be banter. But, if it becomes persistent and regular, then this is bullying. It is about how you feel too, if it makes you uncomfortable and you have told them to stop but they are still name calling, then this is verbal bullying. Banter becomes bullying when it is:

  • Intended to insult and humiliate the other person
  • If it becomes regular and persistent
  • Even after they have asked someone to stop, it continues

How it makes you feel

Experiencing bullying can cause many emotions and feelings. How a person responds to the bullying is often not a reflection of how they feel inside and some of these emotions can stay with them for the rest of their life. Being bullied can make a person feel anxious, trapped, unhappy, nervous, isolated and withdrawn. This can result in behaviours such as dropping out of the course, depression, risky behaviours or aggressive behaviour. These emotions and feelings can often cause scars that last well into adulthood and affect relationships in the future as they may have a lack of trust for others and situations.

Getting help

It is important to seek help and support if you are experiencing any form of bullying. You can speak to your family and friends and get their help and support in getting the bullying to stop. You may want to speak to someone at the university informally first, this could be your campus counsellor, personal tutor, student union representative, harassment adviser or any member of staff you feel comfortable with.

You have the right to make a formal complaint to the University. Once the bullying is reported, a full investigation will be undertaken and disciplinary action may be taken against the bully. You can also get a copy of an anti-bullying policy and harassment and complaint policy from your university. If you are being bullied or intimidated, the university is obligated to safeguard your interests so that you can learn and enjoy your time in a safe, respectful environment.

Further resources 

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker. 

This page was updated on September 2021

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