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Bullies on the Playground: Confronting Horizontal Hostility

September 6, 2019

Photo Credit: G. Adam Poley (CC BY 4.0)

It’s that “back-to-school” season again. Will there be bullies on the playground? In higher ed it is hoped that the worries of high school harassment are left behind as the young adults on our campuses form the habits of college students. Unfortunately, the ubiquitousness of handheld communication carries with it the baggage of cyber-bullying. Some faculty members at Villanova University noted recently that people seem to grow down and not up when it comes to online activities. “Just read the comments section of anything online.” This is particularly disturbing when educational practices that involve electronic media continue to accelerate without any end in sight.

As librarians we used to worry about creeps in the stacks or vandals defacing the books. Now that the life of students is imbued with online media and incessant status checks using a “smartphone,” educators need to be sensitive to the impact of horizontal hostility. The term was coined by thinkers in the feminist movement and the concept has been researched extensively concerning nurses in the workplace, but what about our library users? Especially if they are students.

Overt physical hazing on campuses may be less, although unfortunately still not entirely unheard of, but the initiation of young people into a new learning environment is not only disorienting, but also distressing if their fellow members of the community are critical to the point of abusive. If libraries are loci for democratizing access to knowledge, a crossroads for academic disciplines and a commons for interdisciplinary dialog, librarians need to educate patrons about the insidious and very real possibility of some in the learning community using the anonymity of online media to excoriate each other. The problem of jurisdiction is real, however the library can be a resource for stemming the behavior and fostering civil discourse, if we bring it into the forefront.

Kelsey Merkley gave a passionate talk about “Horizontal Hostility” in the Open community at the Creative Commons 2019 Global Summit earlier this summer. Maybe librarians should even consider programming around shining a light on horizontal hostility in the workplace as well as within the student body?

You can check out all the keynotes from CC’s 2019 Global Summit via their Website:

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