Authors: Byers, D. S. & Cerulli, M.
Source: Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/dhe0000180
Publication Type: Article in a publication
Abstract: Cyberbullying is pervasive on college campuses, but it is underdiscussed because the problem is denied by many students and usually invisible to school officials. This study examined how college students understand cyberbullying, their ethical reasoning about whether to help targeted peers, and their improvised helping strategies. In-depth interviews were conducted with 29 undergraduate students attending 7 colleges and universities in the northeastern United States. All of the participants had tried to help a targeted peer at least once in college, but were also asked to identify cases when they had not tried to help. Among the findings, the subtlety and ambiguity of cyberbullying in college made it difficult in many cases to appraise or name. Sharing racial identities and friendship ties were important factors for participants reasoning that they should help. They also expressed caution or skepticism about helping people they did not already know well or with whom they did not share social identities. When participants did help, they acted individually to support targeted peers rather than confronting peers or reporting incidents to administrators. They also acted in groups, organizing “circles of protection” for support and advocacy, as well as organizing retributive group punishments toward individuals associated with cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can both undermine and create opportunities for prosocial ethical learning among college students. Recommendations for campus organizing and dialogue are discussed.