Are CSUEB Professors Bullying Students? Students Speak Up in a Recent Poll

Lisa Wilson, Contributor

A poll of the student body conducted via the unofficial California State University, East Bay Discord group showed 88% of students have not felt bullied by a professor at CSUEB, although 12% have claimed to have been bullied by professors in the classroom. While there is a fine line between pushing students to be their best and bullying, how can we tell the difference? 
One key difference between pushing a student and bullying is the tone and intent behind the communication. Pushing students involves constructive criticism, positive reinforcement, and setting high expectations. Bullying, on the other hand, involves belittling, humiliating, or intimidating students.If your professor is firm on due dates, quality of work, or closed-book exams, this is not bullying.What can students do?
To improve communication with professors, students can take several steps:

  • Go to office hours: This is a great opportunity to ask questions, discuss assignments, and build a relationship with the professor. Get to know who is teaching you when possible.
  • Be respectful: Show respect to your professor by being on time, being mentally present in class, and actively listening.
  • Do the work: Engage in class discussions, ask questions, and show your interest in the subject matter.
  • Act right: Avoid using foul language or being overly casual with your professors.  Don’t call your professor ‘dude,’ ‘man,’ or their first name unless they tell you to use their first name.

College is supposed to be a safe and respectful learning environment for all students. By knowing the difference between a demanding professor and bullying, as well as being familiar with how to navigate these situations, students can help create a positive learning environment for everyone.  
Nevertheless, some students have reported incidents of professors calling them out in front of the class, using aggressive language, and even insulting their intelligence. This is not OK. This behavior not only affects students’ academic performance but also their mental health and well-being. Name-calling by a professor is NEVER appropriate.  This kind of behavior leads to resentment in students and can affect the work that students do for the class.  Some people stop trying when they don’t feel safe or respected in a learning environment. Some students may even be tempted to drop out.
It can be tough to tell the difference between bullying and a tough professor at times, especially if a student is not used to hearing constructive feedback. According to the National Institute Of Health, bullying in school is characterized by: “a teacher who uses his/her power to punish, manipulate or disparage a student beyond what would be a reasonable disciplinary procedure.” One way to tell the difference between the two interactions is to pay attention to the intentions behind the feedback. If a professor’s comments are meant to motivate and help you improve, then the comments are meant to teach and make you better. If the criticism is meant to demean or belittle you, then this is something to be concerned about, and is considered bullying. .
Sometimes, miscommunication can be the product of a culture clash.  This can be the result of a misunderstanding based on differences in background, age, or generational gaps. The key to solving these kinds of issues is understanding. To improve communication with professors, students can practice strong communication skills. This includes actively listening to feedback, asking questions for understanding, and reaching out for help when needed. 
Expressing your grievances in a timely and professional way is important if you are being bullied, since staying in a bad situation over a prolonged period of time can affect your mental health and your grades. This can mean speaking with the professor directly and expressing how their behavior is affecting the you. Demonstrate the same respect you deserve as a student, even when it’s challenging. Doing this will also help other students who may be affected by bullying in the same class who don’t speak up out of fear. If this does not resolve the issue, students can talk to a counselor or the department chair to file a formal complaint.  

Tips If You Feel Bullied

  • Document what happened: Write down specific incidents and dates of the bullying.
  • Speak to the professor: Try to resolve the issue by speaking to the professor and explaining how their behavior is affecting you.
  • Speak to a counselor: Talk to a counselor for support and guidance on how to handle the situation.
  • Speak to the department chair: If the issue is not resolved, speak to the department chair to file a formal complaint.

CSUEB has resources available for students who feel bullied or need support. The Discrimination Harassment and Retaliation pages, or DHR, offer resources for filing a complaint. CSUEB also offers counseling and supportservices, while the Office of Equity and Diversity provides resources for addressing discrimination and harassment. Students can also speak with their academic advisors or the university ombudsperson for guidance on how to handle the situation.
Bullying by college professors may be a rare, but real problem that can impact students greatly. A good professor will always ask for the best from students, but bullying is never okay. Thus, college students are responsible for recognizing the differences between challenging and bullying professors, as well as learning how to communicate effectively to address the issue.  Keep channels of communication open, and ask questions when you have a misunderstanding with a professor. Understanding where the professor is coming from will often help solve misunderstandings and help to make your educational experience that much richer.