April 7, 2006
Something Wicked This Way Comes . . . Nevermind, It's Already Here
An ugliness is creeping -- in fact, I am increasingly convinced, has already crept -- into law school culture. Given new power by the Internet, it is infecting law schools and inflicting real damage on our students, much as it has done in lower schools. That ugliness is peer-on-peer bullying.
Some weeks ago (Feb. 10, 2006), I suggested in this space that ASP professionals read Darby Dickerson's article, "Cyberbullies on Campus," 37 U. Tol. L. Rev. 51 (2005). I made that suggestion because I suspected that law schools have a problem they do not see and that the problem has serious implications for our students. Let me renew that suggestion.
In the weeks since that posting, I have become convinced that the phenomenon of bullying has made its way up from the lower schools and is now well established in law schools. Much of the activity is occurring on-line in student blogs seldom visited by faculty, so the torment goes on well out of the the sight of faculty; but its effects among students are widespread. Much of it rises to the level of serious intimidation or worse, is often startlingly defamatory, and is frequently rife with epithets directed at various minority groups.
I suggest that we alert our faculties to the possibility that students are being targeted and tormented by their peers and begin educating ourselves about the bullying phenomenon. Most of the empirical research has been conducted in the contexts of the lower schools and the workplace, but the findings and advice translate fairly easily into the law school context.
You would think adult students would be beyond such behavior; and you would think that deliberate, orchestrated torment of colleagues would never happen among those studying to serve as professionals in the justice system. You would also be wrong, I fear; and being wrong, you would be leaving to the mercy of very bright and very effective adult bullies the students you otherwise work so hard to help. (dbw)
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