Katelyn Chostner, Editor-in-Chief & Dustin Steinhoff, News Editor
As tensions continue to rise between political parties, we have seen examples of each side bullying the other. It is happening everywhere. Even recently on television, co-hosts of The View Joy Behar and Meghan McCain pitted against each other in a shouting match over politics. The University of Missouri-St. Louis is not unfamiliar with bullying on its campus. Kenneth Weiss, senior, psychology has been experiencing bullying from his own peers during the final few weeks of his time at UMSL.
In the Nov. 12 print issue of The Current, a photo misled some readers to believe Weiss was involved with Turning Point USA, an organization that represents conservative views. He has since been a victim of bullying on campus committed by fellow students. The front page of this issue depicted an article titled “UMSL Organization’s Supposed Plans to Smash ‘Socialist’ Pumpkins Shut Down” alongside a photograph of Turning Point USA members hosting the event on the quad.
In the photograph, Weiss is having a calm debate with Turning Point USA representatives. The caption stated, “Turning Point USA at UMSL had a table set up in the quad to interact with students.” Although Weiss has tried to make clear he’s in no way affiliated with the group, students who seem to be opposed to Turning Point USA have relentlessly bullied him on UMSL’s campus.
The first incident happened Nov. 30 during one of Weiss’ classes. A few students had made comments during class about his appearance in the photo. According to Weiss, they aggressively questioned him and he had to clear his name during class time. This was one of several times that Weiss would experience hostile questionings.
The most jarring incident Weiss experienced happened between Benton Hall and West Drive Garage. A group of women, who are believed to be UMSL students, rushed up to Weiss with their arms flailing and started yelling, calling him names and knocking his phone out of his hands. It resulted in about $130 worth of damages to Weiss’ phone. These students have not been identified, but the event has left a lasting emotional scar on Weiss.
After this incident, Weiss immediately went to 301 Woods Hall to report the matter to university faculty. D’Andre Braddix, associate vice provost, offered support to Weiss and ways to amend the situation. According to Braddix, “Bullying is not something that [the university] takes lightly and it would be one of our more progressive sanctions that a student would receive.”
Since Nov. 30, Weiss has had to endure snide comments and stern glares from other students. He also is ignored by fellow classmates that he used to speak with regularly.
“I told them that I was not affiliated with [Turning Point USA], I was actually having a calm debate with members of that group,” said Weiss.
Weiss told the students who have confronted him that he wanted to hear Turning Point USA’s side of the story. He also wanted to share with Turning Point USA what his opinions were on different political topics that they spoke about. Weiss mentioned that his conversation with a member of the group was civil.
“It is so easy to go up to a person and connect with them on a human level and get their side … You can have a really good conversation where both of you can walk away, growing with different viewpoints and you can really enrich your own life by getting other people’s viewpoints that you don’t agree with,” said Weiss. “The more knowledge you have, the better you can be as an individual.”
Bullying at universities may be more common than people think. According to an article in the journal Adolescence, “Bullying in College by Students and Teachers,” authors Casey, Chapell and De la Cruz found that out of the 1,025 students who volunteered for the study at a northeastern public university, 6 percent reported that they witnessed another student bullied and 4 percent said they were bullied themselves. That means 41 students who volunteered for this study were bullied at the university. The question now is how prevalent is bullying at UMSL?
According to Braddix, “I wish we could know who these individuals are so we can address the behavior, but then also help them to see that this is not reflective of our campus community and that behavior is not ever going to be welcomed here.”
Weiss is still experiencing bullying from students who seem to be opposed to Turning Point USA. According to UMSL’s Code of Student Conduct, students who cause “Physical abuse or other conduct which threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person,” fall under sanctions at the university when applicable. These sanctions can range from a written warning to expulsion from the university. Student Affairs reaches out to students as soon as they come to the university. They are taught a list of behaviors that are not tolerated at UMSL, with bullying third on the list.
Ironically, the conversation that Weiss had with a member of Turning Point USA was less antagonistic than with his confrontations given by his fellow students.
According to Weiss, “Out of all of the conversations I’ve had from [the TPU conversation] to now, I feel like that conversation with TPU was probably the most level-headed conversation I’ve had regarding any issues around TPU.”
Weiss hopes that the people who misidentified him in the photo realize he is not associated with Turning Point USA. This experience is something new to him. Weiss has never experienced harassment that has reached this certain level before.
“It’s really disappointing to see how these people reacted, but it’s also very eye-opening to know that harassment and bullying does happen … Even though [bullying] hasn’t affected me in the past, it has to be affecting other people,” said Weiss.
If there is one thing Weiss wishes for others to learn from this experience, it is that “We are all students, we are all here to better our lives and grow as individuals and to learn and absorb as much knowledge as we can. Let’s just help support each other in that process.”
Weiss wants people who are bullied to reach out and be proactive about it. He says that being active about reporting his situation has led to a social conversation about bullying. This conversation will hopefully, help other victims of assault or bullying on campus. Weiss has found support from the administration and The Current by voicing these incidents that happened on campus.
“I am grateful that there are resources available for people who have to deal with harassment and bullying and that there are people that will listen and will hear you for everything you have to say and will try to help you make things right,” he said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing harassment, reach out to Dr. D’Andre Braddix in 301 Woods Hall or call (314) 516-5211.
Photos by Nicholas Coulter.