Meghan Harper had been a Chatham Hall resident for almost two years when she decided she wanted to run for its house committee.
Then the rumours began.
Someone was using a smear campaign against Harper and that person, as she would later learn, was the friend who’d told her to run in the election.
It was the type of situation she’d hoped to have escaped by university, and what made it more disappointing was that the “friend” was a mature student almost 10 years Harper’s senior.
“I really thought that, after high school, this sort of thing would stop.”
In St. Thomas’ Student Harassment and Discrimination Policy, revised and released last year, it describes harassment as basically acting towards someone in ways that are obviously unwanted by the victim.
This includes everything from insults, to intimidation, to humiliation.
It also states that anyone who is guilty of this will receive discipline from either Residence Life or the university.
However, in order for this to happen, the incidents must be reported.
Meghan Harper hesitated telling the house’s residence advisors because she didn’t think it was a big enough issue.
She thought it was something that would go away on its own.
It’s a mentality she notes other victims display as well.
“People don’t want to deal with it because people think they need to ‘man up’ or whatever,” says Harper. “But that shouldn’t be what happens.”
The answer then, as Harper points out, is a combination of better awareness of the issue campus-wide, and victims understanding that help is out there for them.
Bullying doesn’t only happen at St Thomas University. While young victims of bullying are often told things will get better when they hit post-secondary school, bullying still goes on.
What changes is the ways bullying happens.
“In my experience, the vast majority has been psychological, emotional and verbal abuse,” says Michael Ferguson, a former student and residence advisor at the University of Toronto.
During university, he noticed that bullying moved from “exchanging shoves for verbal jibes.”
“There are hierarchies in certain groups – gamers, sports people, etc. – and those deemed lower in these groups are often humiliated.”
Those most vulnerable, Ferguson found, were individuals who suffered from low self-esteem and self-image issues.
“They don’t see the need to stand up for themselves, nor do they necessarily disagree with their aggressors,” says Ferguson.
This certainly became the case for Meghan Harper.
“I felt angry, but I mostly felt bad about myself, as if there was something wrong with me that made those people attack me like that.”
Harper won her spot on Chatham’s house committee, but says that didn’t stop the intimidation tactics as the year progressed.
Her tormentor, who’d also won a position, continued talking behind her back, as well as undermining her during votes and discussions.
That all stopped after other committee members stood up for her during a meeting, but the experience left a lasting impression with Harper.
“It shocked me and made me reconsider even wanting to be in residence and participating.”
For more information on St Thomas University’s harassment policies, visit: http://w3.stu.ca/stu/administrative/hr/policies/default.aspx