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Conference Explores the Complexities and Consequences of Cyberbullying

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More than 110 educators, psychologists, and human resources professionals examined “ The Many Faces of Cyberbullying” during a day-long conference held at St. John’s University’s Queens, NY, campus on November 15.

The event—featuring 20 specialists in disciplines such as education, law, human services, and psychology—also was accessible via webcast. It was the second in an ongoing series of St. John’s conferences on the problem, the first of which, ” Bullying and Its Consequences,” took place in April 2011.

Robert Mangione, Ed.D., R.Ph., provost of St. John’s, and Jeffrey Fagen, Ph.D., dean, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, delivered the welcoming and opening remarks, respectively. “Great progress in technological communication comes with the ability to create sadness and despair,” said Mangione, who cited the University’s commitment to protecting the underserved as the basis for its deep concern about the impact of cyberbullying.

“Given the complexities and far-reaching consequences of cyberbullying,” Fagen explained, “we are using a multidisciplinary lens to try to decode this critical issue.”

Rafael Art. Javier, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director, Office of Postgraduate Professional Development Programs, was the intellectual guiding force behind the conference with assistance from a variety of University departments: the Division of Student Affairs, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Professional Studies, the Department of Psychology, the Center for Psychological Services, the Office of Community Relations, and the Committee for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Outside institutions also contributed, including Touro College and Pace University.

In his keynote address, “Cyberbullying: Identification, Prevention, and Response,” Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., codirector of the Cyberbullying Research Center and professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University, said the phenomenon presents special challenges because of the perpetrators’ anonymity and lack of accountability. “We need to be able to recognize it in all guises if we want to reduce its occurrence,” he said.

Hinduja urged educators and others in the audience to disseminate a clear definition of online bullying throughout their institutions, citing the importance of educating students about their moral responsibilities as users of technology. He praised St. John’s for including a definition of cyberbullying in the Student Code of Conduct, noting that other colleges and universities are using SJU’s verbiage as a model.

“Special student workshops and training sessions on online etiquette should be offered by institutions of higher learning,” he said, “to empower students to be the catalysts for creating a more moral social networking climate.”

The keynote panel, presented by faculty from St. John’s, Pace University, and Florida Atlantic University, discussed developmental perspectives on cyberbullying, from childhood to college and beyond. The chair of the Psychology Department, Dr. DiGiuseppe, a well known researcher, provided crucial remarks during lunch emphasizing important considerations in the understanding of the cyberbullying experience: That is, the role of anger and aggression in all aspects of the bullying and cyberbullying experience. An afternoon panel discussion, “A Multidisciplinary Programmatic Response: A Look at Best Practices on the Ground,” featured experts from various disciplines that can shed light on combating cyberbullying: prevention, law and legislation, media and technology, psychological responses, and university responses.

In her closing remarks, Kathryn Hutchinson, Ph.D., vice president for student affairs, issued a call for action, asking attendees to integrate their newly acquired knowledge about cyberbullying into their daily work lives. “We need to implement changes in policies governing online communication that encompass bystanders as well as media users,” she said.

Plans are already underway for another St. John’s conference on bullying sometime over the next 18 months. “St. John’s is seriously involved in the effort to develop effective strategies to eliminate bullying of all kinds,” said Mangione—a goal, he added, arising from the University’s mission “as a Catholic and Vincentian institution committed to eliminating social injustice and to caring for the poor and the vulnerable.”