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Addressing workplace bullying in higher education

The Inclusive Wellness Series, sponsored by Cornell’s Department of Inclusion and Belonging in partnership with the Graduate School Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement and the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity,  hosted a well-attended public talk with Dr. Leah Hollis on March 10 about her research on workplace bullying in higher education. Dr. Hollis is an associate professor at Morgan State University and a noted national and international expert on workplace bullying.

Dr. Leah Hollis

Driven by case studies and research discussed in her book, “Bully in the Ivory Tower: How Aggression and Incivility Erode American Higher Education,” Hollis shared how prevalent bullying is, and how it impacts the performance and well-being of employees.

“62% of respondents are affected by workplace bullying in higher education, and over the last ten years this percentage has remained relatively consistent,” Hollis said.

Sonia Rucker, AVP of Inclusion and Belonging, was instrumental in bringing Hollis back to Cornell after a visit nearly ten years ago.

Rucker explained, “We work a lot with the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX when they receive bias complaints. There were certain things that were coming up repeatedly with some of the complaints around behavior that wasn't exactly bias, but it had this element of hierarchy. People were uncomfortable addressing behavior if it came from someone who was higher than them within the organizational structure.”

In the changing environment of the workplace post-pandemic, there has been an uptick in the number of employees leaving work specifically because of bullying. “Bullying is expensive,” Hollis said. “It’s eroding human resources. It’s stealing the talent. It’s stealing the innovation.”

She offered several solutions to stop bullying before it becomes ingrained within an institution, emphasizing the influential role that leaders play. “If leadership ignores the problem, it becomes an even bigger problem.”

Hollis left the audience with the following message, “We have a responsibility to be civil to each other and to respect the difference of opinions. It takes a village to maintain a bully. The whole system works together to allow the bully to come forward. … And similarly, the whole system can work to end bullying as well.”

Grace DePaull is the Diversity & Inclusion Media Assistant with the Department of Inclusion and Belonging in the Division of Human Resources.

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