College student peer bullying behaviors: a social cognitive perspective

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College student peer bullying behaviors: a social cognitive perspective

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Peer bullying is a "hot topic" issue in the media. The bulk of the research on peer bullying comes from K-12 literature and is understudied within higher education. Higher education bullying is often related to faculty-graduate student relationships or faculty, staff, and administrator workplace issues, and not peer-related. The following research questions guided the study: a) How do students describe bullying or harassing behaviors that they experience from peers? b) How do students address bullying or harassing behaviors that they experience from peers? What university resources do they use, if any? and c) To what extent do students perceive that resources, either from the university or elsewhere, are appropriate and adequate? Twenty-one undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota were interviewed to learn more about how they experience bullying-type behaviors by peers while in college. A model based on the social cognitive theory that considers the college student development process and the higher education environment was useful for developing the interview protocol used to study the bullying behaviors. Data analysis using an open coding method revealed findings in four areas: a) certain common behaviors exist; b) structured social contexts serve as a primary location; c) confusion exists in distinguishing conflict and bullying, including a lack of norms about inclusion/exclusion; and d) there is sensitivity to holding people accountable for negative behaviors. The findings lead to implications for higher education professionals in setting expectations, encouraging the use of campus resources, capitalizing on peer relationships, and training faculty and staff to handle bullying situations.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. January 2015. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisor: Karen Seashore. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 157 pages, appendices A-G.

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Knudson, Laura Jean. (2015). College student peer bullying behaviors: a social cognitive perspective. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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