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Cyberbullying: Sticks and Stones…but Words Can Still Hurt Me

By: Katelyn Six, Section Editor for Block Beat (

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  The age-old saying has long been iterated and reiterated by parents and teachers to console children that are called names by bullies in the lunch line or on the playground.  But an emergent form of bullying called “cyberbullying” makes us question just how true that old saying is.

What is Cyberbullying?

The “Cyberbullying Guide” prepared by Carol Peterson, Associate Director of the University of Illinois at Chicago Wellness Center, defines cyberbullying as being “repeatedly tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed, or otherwise targeted by another individual who is using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies, or mobile phones.”  The influx of technological advancements and all-consuming media outlets has undoubtedly made us the most media-engaged society of all time.  While being connected to friends, family, co-workers and classmates via Internet, phone applications and social media has its benefits, it also comes with its share of detrimental manifestations, one being cyber-aggressiveness.  According to Dr. Robin Kowalski, a professor of Psychology at Clemson University, most people believe that cyberbullying is a concern for high school and middle school students alone or “the equivalent of schoolyard teasing.”  However, a study done on university students found that the same amount of students reported their first experience with cyberbullying occurred in college as reported their first encounter happened in middle school, said Dr. Kowalski.  Clearly, this is something that is not just psychologically damaging, but may be physically dangerous, and is not an issue to be taken lightly or brushed off as merely “schoolyard teasing.”

Who are affected? 

In short, anyone can become a victim of cyberbullying.  Most people believe this form of harassment is a problem that only happens to students in middle school or high school.  The grave misconception that teenagers are the only ones susceptible to cyberbullying is perpetuated by Lifetime movies like Odd Girl Out. The film features an eighth-grade girl, played by actress Alexa Vega, who is viciously, relentlessly ostracized and ridiculed by a clique of “mean girls” via the Internet, driving Vega’s character into a dangerous depression.  While plethora cases continue to surface regarding teenage cyberbullying, an often-overlooked epidemic hits us close to home: cyberbullying at college universities.

How expansive is cyber-aggressiveness?

The scope of victims disturbed by intimidation or harassment via social media platforms, cellphones and the Web is more expansive than many people realize.  Jiyoon Yoon, author of “Cyberbullying Presence, Extent, and Forms in a Midwestern Post-secondary Institution,” is stunned to see how underrepresented students and individuals beyond the high school level are when it comes to cyberbullying.

“I started thinking about cyberbullying and how people overwhelmingly tend to think that it only happens to teens. But more and more college-age students are dealing with this problem,” Yoon relented.

And students are not the only ones being negatively affected by this debilitating form of harassment. “Co-eds cyberbully classmates,” Yoon said, “and I was shocked to discover students trying to cyberbully their instructors, too.”  Therefore, it appears that no one, not even professors, instructors or teaching assistants are immune to being targeted by cyberbullies.

What can be done to combat this?

With safe, helpful resources like the on-campus Wellness Center, it appears that universities such as UIC have the issue of cyberbullying in-check, right?  Not exactly, writes UIC graduate John B. Snakenborg in his doctoral dissertation titled, “Understanding How Schools Respond to Cyberbullying.”  His research indicates that “school staff tends to underestimate student victimization,” consistently resulting in less severe punitive disciplinary consequences for bullies.  In this technological age, now more than ever, it is imperative for university and college officials and staff to take a more proactive approach to fight the growing cyberbullying epidemic infiltrating our schools.

If you or someone you know is encountering bullying online or otherwise, you can visit the UIC Wellness Center in Room 238 Student Center East MC 894 or call 312-413-2120.

University of Illinois at Chicago: Cyberbullying Guide

UIC Wellness Center Website:


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