To maintain a culture of civility throughout the graduate education experience, academic bullying is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

The purpose of this resource is to educate the Virginia Tech community about bullying, to promote civility throughout our community, and to provide strategies and support to limit the power of bullying behavior when it is experienced and observed.

As Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Karen DePauw puts it, "Academic bullying manifests itself in many different ways and can include intimidation, humiliation, belittlement, embarrassment and undermining one’s authority."     

A task force at Eastern Washington University defines bullying as: Intentional behavior targeted at an individual or group that is repeated, hostile or offensive, and creates an intimidating and/or threatening environment  which produces a risk of psychological and/or physical harm. 

Academic bullying occurs throughout the academic or professional space: in the classroom, in meetings, at conferences, in the laboratory setting, in face-to-face interactions, and of course through email and social media.

Bullying may take many forms including but not limited to physical, verbal, or written acts or behavior. It may also manifest as excluding behavior such as ignoring or dismissing individuals or groups. 

  • Hostile behaviors include but are not limited to behaviors that are harmful or damaging to individuals and/or property. Behaviors that are intimidating , threatening, disruptive, humiliating, sarcastic, or vicious may also constitute hostile behavior.
  • Offensive behaviors may include, but are not limited to, inappropriate behaviors such as abusive language, derogatory remarks, insults, or epithets. Other offensive behaviors may include the use of condescending, humiliating, or vulgar language, swearing, shouting or use of unsuitable language, use of obscene gestures or mocking.

Academic bullying also includes behaviors or comments that indicate disregard of one’s concerns, ignore contributions, or minimize one’s efforts in the eyes of colleagues. Other means of exclusion or withholding information also may constitute bullying.  

Expectations of unreasonable workload, limiting earned vacation and prohibiting a graduate student’s own agency for professional choices and personal decisions also may be inappropriate.  

As is well known, comments or behaviors that are sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic and more are unacceptable and can fall under the umbrella of academic bullying and should not be tolerated.  

  • Continual threats of dismissal or intimidation. 
  • Attempts to destroy or harm the person’s self-esteem or confidence.
  • Constant negative remarks or repeated criticism or sarcasm.
  • Consistent over time, unrealistic work demands, or work overloading.
  • Isolating or systematically isolating the person.
  • Spreading false information or rumors.
  • Tasks that are ambiguous, contradictory, or that are deprived of purpose.
  • False insinuations, attacks to the individual's dignity, integrity, or self-image.
  • Attempts to humiliate or public humiliation.

This case study shows examples of several of types of bullying described above.  

Directly involved:
  • Aggressor: Someone who says or does something harmful or malicious to another person intentionally or unprovoked
  • Target: Someone against whom mistreatment is directed.


  • Passive Bystander: Someone who sees something happening and does not say or do anything
  • Active Bystander/Upstander: Someone who speaks out on behalf of someone else or takes actions that are supportive of someone else.

General types of Bullying:

  • Predatory Bullying occurs when the target has done nothing to provoke the bully. This type tends to be more prevalent in organizations that reinforce bullying like government and academia.
  • Dispute related bullying occurs as the result of escalated conflict. Coercive or aggressive strategies are used to resolve an ongoing dispute.

Four types of Bullies:

  • Chronic- Those who use aggressive, dominating, and coercive strategies in nearly every encounter in and out of work/classroom.
  • Opportunist- Those who suspend their aggressive behavior outside of work but believe ‘careers are built with political gamemanship’.
  • Accidental- Those who unknowingly take actions that victimize recipients, and may retreat/apologize when confronted about the behaviors.
  • Substance-Abusing- Those bullying behaviors initiated by substance abusers where ‘rationality and logic are tossed out the window’.

From “Bullying in Academia: What’s an Ombudsman to do?” by Sue Theiss

Bullying can be indirect. Indirect aggression can make it hard to identify who the bully is. Here is more information regarding different forms of bullying:

  • Indirect manipulative aggression refers to aggressive acts involving a peer group such as spreading rumors or isolating someone from their group.
  • Covert insinuative aggression is when the aggressive act is disguised in the form of malicious insinuations and suggestions such as imitation the person in an insulting manner.
  • Rational–appearing aggression is characterized by the bully’s attempt to conceal their intention to hurt the victim by shrouding their aggressive acts in seemingly rational actions.  Often these acts appear to others as everyday communication and not as targeted attempts at aggression.
  • Relational Aggression- The point of relational aggression is to manipulate or disrupt relationships and friendships.
  • Mobbing- Gang bullying or group bullying is often called mobbing and usually involves scapegoating and victimisation.

From: Morris, Jenny Lane. "The Influence of Bystanders in Subsequent Bullying Behavior." (2014).

If you or someone you know are being bullied, our Support Resources page lists some of the people and/or offices you can contact for assistance, depending on what type of help you are looking for.

If you have experienced or witnessed academic bullying and wish to tell someone, you can click on this highlighted link for the form to do so.  You can include as little or as much identifying information about yourself and/or the parties involved as you wish.  The information in the form  will be sent to the Graduate Student Ombudsperson.

You also can indicate whether you would like to discuss the matter further, or that you want to know about other next steps, and the Ombudsperson will contact you. All information you shared and discussed will be kept confidential.