Today I want to talk about one of the uglier aspects of the law school experience–law school bullying. We’ve all had experience with bullying, whether as a victim, a witness to bullying incidents, or even as a bully yourself. The competitive law school environment can feed bullying. Students are targeted by bullies for a number of reasons, including their academic strengths or weaknesses (real or perceived); physical appearance or characteristics; race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ethnicity; physical disabilities; learning disabilities; mental health; or any other of a host of reasons. As we’ve learned from media coverage of issues related to bullying, such as Anderson Cooper’s documentary special, The Bully Effect, on CNN, the consequences of bullying can be devastating. Bullying can demoralize, humiliate, and isolate its victims. It can affect your mental health, motivation to be in law school, confidence in your own abilities, and desire to interact with those around you. I’m not saying that you should not feel upset or be affected by bullying–your feelings are valid and important. But there are things that you can do as a law student to survive–even thrive–despite the bullying. So if you are bullied by your law school classmates, what can you do about it? Here are a few (nonexclusive) suggestions:
First, understand that you are not alone. You are not the only law student who has been bullied. There’s a reason why I felt that writing this post was important, and that’s because so many students experience it. Moreover, it’s important to understand that not everyone is against you. Bullies are vocal and, as a result, tend to make us feel like everyone thinks the same way about us. But, in reality, bullies are a minority. They don’t speak for most students. Be careful not to adopt an “everyone is against me mentality.”
Second, help is out there. You don’t have to go through bullying alone. There are people at your law school who will support you if you reach out to them–professors, deans, academic support professionals, counselors. We don’t want our law schools to be a climate in which bullying is acceptable, and we will do whatever we can to support you and stop the bullying. But we’re not always in a position to see bullying firsthand. Give us the opportunity to help you and others by letting us know what is going on. We also know of additional resources that may be helpful to you if bullying affects your ability to focus on your academic success and mental and physical wellbeing. We want you to succeed–not just in law school but in life. Take advantage of our willingness to help.
Third, remind yourself that, although bullying is very personal to you (of course it is–how can it not be, when you’re the one feeling its effects?), it often reflects the bully’s personal insecurities as well. Many bullies try to feel better about their own insecurities by putting other people down. In that way, they are really signaling to you how they feel about themselves, rather than how they feel about you. Although it may not make bullying any more pleasant, and it certainly doesn’t make it any more acceptable, that understanding can help you to maintain a sense of perspective so that you can move beyond the bullying experience and focus on your own academic and professional success.
I also want to speak to those witnesses of law school bullying. Don’t stay silent when you see bullying taking place. Speak up! Don’t tolerate bullying among your fellow students. You are our future lawyers–if you do not stand up in these types of situations, who will? And even if you do not feel comfortable speaking out, at least reach out to fellow students who have been bullied and show them that they are not alone.
Finally, a word for law school bullies: Bullying is not acceptable for anyone, but certainly not for future lawyers. It does not reflect the personal character demanded by our profession.