Room for change

Joey Garcia

It’s my first year at college, and I live in the dorms. One of my roommates and I got into a tiff, and now she is ruining my life. I was in our room studying with a friend when she walked in with one of her friends and proceeded to be loud and obnoxious. I said something about the noise, she and her friend were offended and left. Later that day, she was totally tweeting about me and calling me a bitch. Some of my friends say she has written other mean stuff about me since then. There are people on campus looking at me like I’m a freak. I am trying to ignore her and her friends, but it’s hard. I am scared of her. What do you think I should do?

Realize that cyberbullying is a crime. Check your university’s student handbook. It should include a zero-tolerance rule for bullying, the steps you should take if bullied and clearly defined consequences for students who engage in bullying others. Harassing, intimidating or threatening someone through the use of cellphones, email, chat rooms, or any social-networking sites is abuse. If your university is more worried about its public image than maintaining a safe campus, university officials will ignore your concern. They might also try to minimize the issue. (Minimizing is a form of denial.) If that happens, file a police report (you can do this online) with the off-campus police. Yes, that means law enforcement in the city where you currently live. You will need evidence of the things your roommate has been saying about you. Print out copies of her tweets from a friend’s account and the online police report. Send both to the university administrator in charge of resolving such problems. If that does not focus her or his attention, amp up the volume. Inform your parents and solicit their help in confronting school officials (this is especially important if you are under 18 years old). Introduce yourself to the professor on campus who lists bullying issues as an area of expertise (there’s always one—try the psychology department). Ask for advice. Get the school newspaper interested in writing about cyberbullying. And, without mentioning details that would turn your story into campus gossip (don’t say it’s your roommate, don’t name your roommate, don’t give details about what happened or what she said), explain what it feels like to be the victim of cyberbullying and why it should be stopped. Explain how alone and helpless a bullying victim feels, and how those painful feelings increase when the expected, advertised and promised support from the campus community never materializes. Note how failure to take action is simply supporting the bully’s behavior.

Of course, you could also have a sit-down heart-to-heart conversation with your roommate. Many young adults lack the ability to control their impulses. Immersion in video games and other forms of technology have contributed to wiring their brains to desire instant gratification. Antidotes like cognitive behavioral therapy, true Buddhist meditation or Christian contemplation are not considered until the lack of impulse control becomes a crisis. This explanation is not intended to solicit your sympathy. It is offered to deepen your understanding.

That said, when you chat with your roommate, be specific and nonaccusatory: “I was hurt by the tweets I read about me. This must stop now and never happen again. I understand there is some tension between us. Let’s talk it out and find solutions so we can share this dorm room peacefully.” It’s really helpful to have a neutral third-party present, like the dorm’s resident adviser. If you can’t work it out, insist that you are given your own room, no matter the impact on the university.

Meditation of the week

“I think it’s fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool ever created. They are tools or communication, they’re tools of creativity and they can be shaped by their user,” said Bill Gates, co-founder and chairman of Microsoft. Do you use your computer to add life to your life or to waste precious moments of your limited existence?

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