So…about a week ago I posted a blog entry about verbal abuse and bullying in academe. I asked friends and colleagues to repost, tweet, and spread it. The results were–by the usual measures of my small-time blog–rather astounding. Since first going up the post has received over 1700 views. My previous record was around 600. I credit my generous and supportive colleagues with this result. But the accompanying comments on my Facebook pages, on their Facebook pages, and on the blog itself, and the private messages I received would suggest that I tapped into a broader concern. People shared stories of being on the receiving end of verbal abuse. Others talked about trying to change departmental and campus cultures to limit these behaviors. Many expressed understandable frustration that more wasn’t being done on their campus and by their colleagues to root out this unacceptable behavior.
All of this seemed to me to warrant some follow-up posts: a series that I will call “Kitchen Tales” (since the original post talked about turning down the heat in the kitchen and as a play on the blog’s name).
So, today in Part One I offer some observations.
First observation: words matter. People who verbally abuse others are not “blunt” or “speaking their mind” or “assertive” or “forthright.” They are engaging in bad behavior and we need to name it appropriately. We don’t need to be inflammatory, but we do need to call this behavior inappropriate and unacceptable. We need to resist those who would dress it up or cover it up with a vocabulary that justifies or downplays it.
Second observation: Combating and resisting these behaviors will not be easy work and there will be risks. Colleagues behave like this, in part, because they can get away with it and have been getting away with it. Even if you are completely and totally in the right in calling this person out, be prepared for potential negative fallout. Some will applaud you, but some may ask why you’re making such a fuss or picking on this person or suggest that you are the problem, not the person doling out the abuse. I don’t say this to be discouraging. I say it because–as with all whistle-blowing–it’s not guaranteed to go smoothly and you need to be prepared.
Third observation: Know your institution. What kind of institutional support is there if you or someone else decides to stand up to verbal abuse or bullying? Do you know what your institution’s anti-harassment policy is? Or if there is one? If there is, what does it look like? The one at my university, for example, groups harassment with discrimination more broadly and sexual harassment more specifically. While I am grateful that we have a policy that covers many possible unacceptable behaviors, the grouping of all of these categories makes the policy a bit opaque and the path for pursuing a complaint involving verbal abuse is muddled as a consequence. Perhaps, then, this is an area that needs attention.
Which brings me to my fourth observation: Each campus culture and structure is distinctive and solutions will need to be local. In a future post I will talk about some general precepts and principles, but implementing these will depend greatly on conditions and circumstances that are specific to your campus.
So your homework is this: start learning about your institution’s policies and procedures. Hypothetically, what would it look like–e.g.what office would you go through, who would you talk to, etc–if you wanted to file a complaint against someone?