The Subtle Academic Bully

In our conversation on microaggressions in relation to race and gender, some of these subtle comments reminded me of subtle forms of bullying that occur in academia (and likely most workplaces). These instances of incivility generally fly under the radar, but can be just as damaging as overt bullying. In some instances, they may even be worse, since the perpetrator is often very sly and manipulative knowing they will not get caught officially “doing anything wrong” From conversations with friends and colleagues as well as personal experience, here are some of the common signs of a covert academic bully:

1. The Jokester

This person hides their jerk comments within a joke. This way, they can pull the “hey, I was just kidding” card if you actually speak up and tell them you are offended

Example: A text message that reads -“Hey slacker, I swung by your office this morning to say hi, but you weren’t there.” One time, from a friend…okay. Multiple instances from a non-friend. Back off bully!

2. The Frenemy

This person initially befriends their future victims, typically using them to meet the bullies needs, and creating a sense of trust which lowers the victims guard. Worse yet, this person is generally a suck-up, so bosses may be blind to their bullying behaviors.

3. The Blamer and the Credit Take

Something goes wrong, or not according to plan. This person will not take responsibility. Instead, they will place blame on others, usually those who are not there to defend themselves. This person may also be the perpetual credit taker. Was something a group or team effort? You can bet this person will up play their involvement, and downplay the contributions of others.

4. The Criticizer

Receiving corrections and critiques is part of the gig, and something we should all be able to handle. This type of bully takes it too far though, constantly criticizing their victim’s work, intelligence, effort, etc.

5. The Guilt Tripper

Did you happen to take a day off? This bully is going to make you feel like the biggest slacker ever for doing so.

Example: “Wow, you went out of town this weekend? I can’t imagine ever being able to take 2 days off with my schedule. It must be so nice to have so few responsibilities.”

6. The Gossip

This person is the one who could also be referred to as a “politician”. This bully often campaigns against their victim by spreading untrue rumors and talking poorly about this person to others in the work group.

Regardless of the form or context in which the bullying occurs, it is harmful and unacceptable. Unfortunately, given the subtle nature, it seems difficult to eliminate these types of behaviors from the academic environment.

Have you felt bullied in the course of your graduate career by a peer or boss? Do the above “types of bullies” seem familiar? What other types would you add? What ideas do you have for breaking this cycle in academia?




A PhD Student at Virginia Tech. This blog was created as a class requirement for Contemporary Pedagogy - Spring 2013. 

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