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Bullied in my program


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Hi All,

I would like to ask you for your advice regarding an issue that is currently happening at my university. What would be the best approach to dealing with being obviously rejected by my peers in my program ? It wouldn't matter so much if there wasn't so much group work involved, also the coordinator want it to be a tight group but they apparently don't mind that they do not include me...True, I feel like a bit like an alien for many reasons: I'm much older with a background in the arts/music industry which has nothing to do with my current topic. I think that they decided that they couldn't relate to me and pushed me to the side...

The thing is, I really love the topic, but I've been through a lot emotionally for the past couple of years and don't need to be under more pressure than needed because of my class; this is a very challenging program. When I noticed that they were ignoring me, not inviting me to their events etc...I gave them the benefit of the doubt by pretendind that nothing happened and showed even more interest in them but...they don't seem to want to make the effort. I have a thick skin but I think that I should be able to enjoy my study program without being bullied for obscure reasons. It's not good for them and for me. 

I wonder if i should just quit and find another program or stick to it while ignoring them outside of group work...Any advice? Thank you.

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To clarify, people are not inviting you to private events that happen outside of school? Are they just the people in your cohort or everyone in your program? Is this a Masters or a PhD (that is, how much coursework vs. independent work do you expect to do)? Are they excluding you from projects that you are required to do for class? Are they actively doing anything to harm you? What you described wouldn't be my first definition of bullying, so I am trying to understand the situation. 

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Hi Fuzzy,

This is a MA program that requires equally both a lot of personal work and group work. The group projects that we have to do are determined by the faculty who also decide which students go into which group. In that regard, I will be included in one of the groups for sure. My problem is that in class the students ignore me. If I try and speak to one of them, they will answer in a more or less rude manner, which does not encourage me to go further. Sometimes, I had to insist because they would just ignore that was actually talking to them.

I ran into the director of the program at a lecture last week, I said hi and she just looked at me without responding...The coordinator blatently ignored me when I saw her in the hall of the department the other day: I said hello, she looked at me then went on her way. I emailed her the same day because of a concern with my schedule, she hasn't got back to me yet, knowing that in 2 days I won't be able to make any more changes...

The other day, in class, I asked one of my fellow students if there was a way to get to know the cohort better and she said that seeing them in class was good enough. They have created a facebook page to keep the whole group up to date on school and non-school related matters. I asked her to give me the adress, she didn't reply and moved on to a different topic, but she asked the girl sitting next to me to give her her fb name so she could add her!! 

I run into them sometimes outside of uni, and they just turn their head, say a very distant hi or pretend they don't know me.

They are not trying to physically harm me but ostracising someone is violent enough in itself.

If feels like 'ok, you're in the program but don't expect us to be your friends or such...' and nobody says anything about it...


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I can see why that might be challenging.  Here are my suggestions:

1. Keep being nice.  It's possible you're misunderstanding the situation and things aren't as bad as you think.  If that's the case, and you start being defensive or accusing people of leaving you out, they DEFINITELY won't want to be your friends.  

2. Try and find friends somewhere else.  I know it feels like giving up, but hey, not everyone will like you.  You don't like EVERYONE you meet, do you?  Well, just as you have the right to not like some people, they have the right to not like you.  It happens.  It sucks that it's people you have to spend so much time with, but it happens.  An MA program is short, so you only have to put up with them for a year or two, at least.  Try and make friends outside your program and then hang out with them instead.  If they're leaving you out on purpose, do you really want to be friends with them anyway?  Won't you resent them for having left you out in the first place?  Find new people.

I do wonder if you are showing them, somehow, that you feel left out by acting defensive.  You say you asked this girl in your class about hanging out with people more and adding you to the Facebook group -- depending on when you started doing this, how, and to whom, I could see them being rubbed the wrong way, particularly if they didn't feel like they were leaving you out on purpose.  

Edited by gellert
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Thanks for your input Gellert.

I know that not everyone will like me, I figured that out a long time ago! It just seems odd to me that I would be accepted to a program, despite the fact that I do not have the typical profile of the student they would accept in their cohort, then put aside just because of that apparently. In other words, they took me in, gave me a chance, but I shouldn't expect more from them...

I act as normal as I can, but I must admit that if i'm ignored when I try and speak with them, I don't feel like talking with them again, I have a little bit of self-esteem. I asked the girl in my class about hanging out more with the bunch as spontaneously as possible; they were a bunch of them that I barely knew so I thought that it would be a good way to get to know each other since we're supposed to bond as a group. The fb question popped up right after that.

It's not fun, I really wanted this to be a great year...well, it still can be actually; it'll just be without them :)



Edited by Anonymous36
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I understand where you're coming from.  You'd be so surprised by instances of miscommunication, especially among socially-awkward people like graduate students.  I used to rub a lot of people in the wrong way without meaning to and had to work on my interpersonal skills.  I was also raised in a more traditional fashion, contrary to a lot of my peers.  It took a lot of group/individual therapy to realize these things.

People form groups organically, through chemistry and shared values.  Not everyone is mature enough to look beyond those and work for the sake of learning together.   You may not have much of a choice if they're not willing to meet you halfway.  A lot of younger people want to be able to make friends and BE friends with each other, not simply treat each other as colleagues the way our parents and older friends can.  It's frustrating, I know, because we'd like to be able to make friends at work too, not just in our personal lives.

As for the faculty and staff, don't ever misinterpret them.  EVER.  They're often VERY busy people and don't have time to think much about graduate students, including basic courtesy.  I'll bet you that they won't even remember the moment their outward appearance made you feel dismissed!  Faculty can be socially awkward as well but not as horrible as graduate students (maturity makes up the difference).

Try to keep your head down and participate as needed.  Be a good citizen.  Be kind to others.

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Okay, what you describe really sucks. You've gotten good advice here. Most importantly, I think you should separate what's going on with the students from what is going on with faculty.

For the students, there may not be much more to do than keep doing what you're doing, and unfortunately accept that they may not like you and you may not be able to change that. It sucks and it's unfair, but fighting it might not be the best course of action. Maybe finding friends outside your program is what you need to make this period of your life a happy one. Another thing to keep in mind is that these things sometimes take on a life of their own, especially in group situations. You may do better in one-on-one situations, if you're able to chat or go out for coffee with just one or two of them at a time. Having someone defend you to the group can go a long way, if somehow they've decided that you are unfriendly or someone they otherwise don't want to hang out with. 

For faculty, I think I would do my best not to make any assumptions. A lot of faculty can be socially awkward, or just very busy. I would bet they aren't even aware they made you feel uncomfortable. "She just looked at me and walked away" might be "I nodded at her and gave her a smile" in their minds. Emails sometimes get filed away by accident or if it was too long or unclear, they might have missed the fact that it's time sensitive. I always assume in these cases that people are 100% well-meaning and things might have just fallen through the cracks. Send a follow up email, and also try and figure out if this is one of those people who just suck with email; maybe there is a better form of communication with this person, such as a phone call or text, or maybe the best course of action is to find her in her office and talk in person. Despite how the students might be treating you, there is no reason to think that the professors would do the same. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

You'll just have to deal with the age and life experience difference and the fact you may not be befriended by many in your cohort. I would be careful about throwing the term "bullied" out there. Do you try to spend time and/or socialize in your department's graduate student lounge? As for faculty, I don't expect more than a nod and a smile sometimes. 

One important thing is whatever you do, always be friendly to department secretaries.

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