I Was Bullied in College

Names have been changed

            Going to a state university my freshman year, bullying was the last thing on my mind. Like many others, I thought bullying happened in k-12. If someone were to have asked me about bullying, scenarios like Mean Girls and the stereotypical middle school would be called to mind. Besides the passing snide remark from other girls, I never had experience with bullying. I was never the “victim” type. As a college freshman, I was driven, self-confident, and an active student. I am quiet, but never had problems making friends. I got good grades and joined campus organizations to help me achieve my ultimate goal of becoming an elementary school teacher.

            I started school and moved into the dorms with a stranger I was placed with, Stephanie. We had talked over the Internet and met at orientation. We were both in the same teacher preparation program that required its students to live in the same dorm freshman year and take specific classes together throughout college. After the first weekend of crazy welcome activities and forced socialization, Stephanie and I became best friends. Throughout the whole school year, we were always together. Everyone knew us as a pair.

            Looking back on that time, there were some warning signs. Stephanie always had to be in control. She loved to be in a position of power. Her personality was very large, and she was very outspoken. She struggled in classes, but would never ask for or accept help from me. She had continuous boy problems, but said I wouldn’t understand because I was in a serious relationship. Even further, she seemed to always walk ahead of people, making sure to strut. Occasionally, she would even get mad or upset when I got my period first that month, because that meant she wasn’t the “alpha”.

            Since I am quiet and soft-spoken, Stephanie’s drastic differences from me were always something I kind of enjoyed. As a friend, I always tried to be there for her and offer support when she needed it. She never accepted. Then, towards the end of spring semester, things started to change. Stephanie started getting cold towards me. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me I wouldn’t understand. She said every time she talked to me she felt she was being judged because I did things so differently. She was insecure, and told me “you have all your ducks in a row and I like to move mine around more”. I didn’t understand why that would affect our friendship. By the end of the semester, she was isolating me- hanging out with our friends without me, saying bad things about me to them, and barely talking to me at all. I was upset, but I also knew she could be dramatic. I let her have her time and figured she would come back around.

            Summer passed, and I still hadn’t heard much from Stephanie. We sent maybe five texts that summer- cordial “how’s it going” types of greetings. Returning to school that fall, I was nervous. I didn’t know how things were going to be between me and Stephanie and the friends she had claimed as hers. The first day of classes, I walked into a class everyone in the program had together, smiled, and sat down next to them. Immediately they turned their bodies away from me and started talking to each other. That was when I knew they weren’t my friends. I went home and cried, but I had no idea how bad it was going to get.

            Over the next two semesters, the situation just got worse. In our classes together, we ended up sitting on opposite sides of the room, but I could still feel their eyes on me. I knew them well enough to know they were making fun of me and talking about me behind my back. I became reluctant to talk in class because of the whispers from that side of the room that would follow. I started noticing other friends and acquaintances from the program had stopped talking to me. Stephanie had completely isolated me from all of my friends. She started showing up to mutual classes wearing my clothes that had gone missing in the dorms, looking pointedly at me when she did. The whispering, the clothes, everything, was all a big mind game she was playing to have control.

            During that time, I began feeling helpless. The isolation and lack of friendship were affecting my mental health. The girls that were once my best friends were turning on me in the worst way. I had the freshman fifteen, and then gained about forty more pounds from the deepening depression. My once mellow, happy attitude was gone and now I was crying almost every day about anything and everything. I went to classes, came home, and laid in bed. I felt like I couldn’t do anything about it besides keep going. I thought if I told anyone, they would just shrug it off as silly girl problems. I still didn’t realize I was being bullied. I thought bullying only happens to kids.

            My depression hit its lowest point when I didn’t feel anything anymore. I cried, but I was numb. I didn’t care about anything. At this point, I went on anti depressants. This was also around the start of spring semester of my sophomore year. That semester, things still got worse. But, I also found a friend. Emma was similar to me. She was smart, motivated, and successful. She was also in the program for teachers, and knew a little bit about what was going on. We had a class together, and one day she came in and said “Stephanie is doing the same thing to me”. We talked and talked over the next couple of days about Stephanie and how she was using isolation for power. Emma told me about how Stephanie was telling anyone and everyone not to talk to me. She had even made a list on the front door of her apartment of people who were never allowed in. Of course, I was number one. I began feeling the support of Emma, and we found refuge and understanding in each other. I was starting to feel better.

            Emma agreed that there was nothing we could really do about the situation. We could tell the directors of our program, but even then we did not have any hard proof, and they could still shrug it off as girls being girls. But then, Emma received a text that said, “We saw you talking to the sworn enemy”. We hit our breaking point. Emma went and told the program directors about what was happening. The next day, I told them my story. They were sympathetic and apologized for what had been happening to us. They promised to talk to Stephanie and take action as needed. I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. What I didn’t realize was that nothing would be done.

            The program directors talked to Stephanie, and she played it off as nothing, saying the text was a joke. They believed her. Emma and I were told to just ignore her and move on, and there would be no consequences for her. We were very hurt and mad. We felt as if they were doing exactly what we were afraid of. We had been ignoring her, and it was still happening. We asked for Stephanie to be removed from the program. Nothing happened.

            Eventually, Stephanie removed herself from the program, citing a “lack of support”. She did not receive the grades to continue on in the education program, but still attends the university. I still see her occasionally, and it is still awkward. We haven’t spoken in over a year, but it still stings a bit when I think about the whole situation. I have found comfort in the people, like Emma, that I surround myself with. I am disappointed in the program for the lack of support and action they took, but ultimately I found what I needed. I am still struggling with depression, but I know that will be a longer process. Finding and trusting friends is harder for me now, but I am also stronger and more motivated. I know this whole experience has changed me deeply, but hopefully it has been for the better.

            I don’t think my story is that uncommon. That is why I want to raise awareness for bullying at all levels. As a future educator, I know the importance of bullying awareness. But I also know the myths attached to it, such as the “victim” type, the age limit, and the way bullying happens. I think the best way to dispel these myths is to share my story and encourage others to share theirs. I hope more teachers and programs will see the need for bullying awareness training and learn how to handle similar situations. I hope that with raised awareness, no student will have to sit idly by as long as I did.