Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Everything is bullying, except of course actual bullying

A lot has been going on at the University of Missouri of late. Student protests over unaddressed racism on the campus led to the resignations of the school's System President and its chancellor, which was followed by the appointment of an interim vice chancellor who is tasked with addressing the apparently significant problems with racism on the campus.

Then came the clash with "the media." Students on the campus had formed some kind of encampment and a freelance photographer working for ESPN—one Tim Tai, who is a student at the school, himself—was headed into the area to snap some pictures. The students there decided the area was a "safe space" and refused to allow Tai into the area, forming an impromptu wall to block him. They then berated him to leave, held their hands up to prevent him from snapping pictures, and at various points in time pushed him back. All the while, the involved students and what appears to be several faculty members as well made self-righteous and phony claims about Tai pushing them, touching them. It was an ugly scene. Watch it below:


There's a word for the students involved in this event: bullies. Because the word for their behavior is: bullying. There's no way around it. They used their numbers to take advantage of someone who was by himself, they sought to intimidate him, they belittled him, they mocked him, they eventually resorted to physical force and pushed him back. And through it all, he tried vainly to just do his job.

But looking around on the stories about all of this, pitifully few are using the "bullying" angle. Look at this thoughtful piece by Terrell Jermaine Starr at WaPo. From it:
Certainly, Tai – like any journalist – had a legal right to enter the space, given that it was in a public area. But that shouldn’t be the end of this story. We in the media have something important to learn from this unfortunate exchange. The protesters had a legitimate gripe: The black community distrusts the news media because it has failed to cover black pain fairly.
Allowing that he has a fair point, with regard to the black community and the media, that point doesn't justify bullying behavior in my opinion, especially given that the vast majority of the bullies were obviously not members of the black community (though maybe I missed the Rachel Dolenzes in the group). Starr would do well to note this usurpation of the cause by non-members. But he doesn't. He speaks throughout the piece about black students and their establishment of this "safe space," yet by and large, they are not the ones who instigated this incident. And again, he fails to note it for what it is: bullying.

And that is ultimately surprising to me, given how many stories about bullies and bullying behavior there have been across the last several years, how almost any behavior one could imagine was so classified. Yet when given an example of obvious bullying, people in the media seem blithely unaware of what is actually transpiring in an incident they are covering, are writing about. Given an opportunity to identify bullying, they collectively balked.

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