Now this is something that happened long ago and even after so long, in a way begs for an answer, so I thought that I might ask here.
This happened to someone who was in another department of my university, H. He had taken an entry level position (a trainee, eventually moving onto a grad assistant) in a lab. In all his time there, he was heavily bullied by a senior phD student B.
Apparently, H via a slip of tongue had made his future career aspirations known to B’s advisor, K. Now, K felt that H’s career choices were against their personal beliefs. This lead them (K) to try and bully H out of the place completely. They did everything in their power to brand H an outsider and an unwanted presence, scrutinizing everything from their quality of work to H’s appearance and diet (yes diet, turns out when people get desperate to smear someone they’ll literally say anything ). H’s advisor L was pretty close with K, but K held a lot of pull in the department and hence was able to continue this. He made sure that H was assigned either nonsensical problems (which H still diligently followed through, much to the chagrin of everyone else) and also made sure that he would not be allowed to do any of it; in hopes that he would be driven away.
B was a phD student co-mentored by K and L. B would also sit right behind H and made it his priority of the day that H would not get to do any work no matter what (he would also encourage others to do the same, in fact many joined in). How he managed to keep up with his research and bully someone is beyond me. Though there were rumors that he had to be shifted to another location in the lab because he had become (almost) obsessed with H to the point that he was abandoning his own work.
It was said that H was pretty good at what he did and in the face of all the problems he was given (that no one wanted), he did the best he could and completed them, finally submitting all his findings before leaving. B was apparently frustrated with his own progress and was seemingly under-performing too, this might have lead to him to bully H ( due to the jealousy of seeing a younger member of the lab getting something done when one is barely eking out anything ). Apparently he (B) had been reprimanded before once for slacking off.
I think the harassment also escalated because H was not allowed to speak up, and when he did try to in any way, he was immediately silenced and reprimanded for doing so. In the end, whatever incident may have caused him to speak up was blamed on him. This was only found much later, before that, H was blamed for many transgressions (when they were forced upon him by someone else).
H may have needed the position, since he did whatever was required to get his work done and stuck through. Ironically, in the end he was blamed for a lot of everything due to his “lack of speaking up” (when he was being secretly reprimanded whenever he did so).
For the sake of brevity, I’ll not include the massive drama that followed, including K using every inch of his power to put H down, H clashing with another member of the lab and finally, a new hire being pitted against H. In the end, H left, but I wonder even now, what should have been done in this case?
Some of the other grad students in that department whom I spoke to gave off the vibe that they did in a way side with H, but were too scared to take a stand with him because they did not want to go against K and hence ended up saying nothing or simply joining in against H. It was either him or them. K had also gotten one of the administrative assistant’s in the lab to smear him across the department and spread all kinds of rumors about him, so by the time H had left, mostly everyone hated him. It was actually strange because most of them knew the truth but spited H nevertheless (to protect themselves). B also had a habit of bringing people to sit behind H and then badmouth him (basically anything, did not even have to be true), this was only one of the few things he did. This was a common occurrence. B got away with it in the end. He was able to pull this off because of another highly corrupt grad student.
I did come to hear that B and the other grad students actually bragged about how they would try to mess with H’s sanity ( by trying to make him belive that he was doing shitty work when he was not, I’m using the word trying here because H eventually completed his task and something like this would be pretty childish so I would wonder if something like that would actually work ) and how easily they could get away with it. Although many cannot (read would not) admit it openly, it is pretty henious the way B made personal ( and very out of line ) attacks to H’s character this way. Strangely, even though H is gone now, they (corrupt grad students present there now) still brag about how they mess with H even though he is far away (not sure about the exact details, but I think this has something to do with spreading rumors) and how easy it is to do so.
All these incidents had become part of the daily gossip at our university as K pipped all of this as ‘entertainment’ created by him. Because H was known to not participate in any of the bullying, other students caught wind of this whole deal (due to the aforementioned rumors) and would try and bully H the same way it was being done in the lab. People did it because they found the effect comedic.
What should people have done when the bullying had become this bad? H did eventually end up leaving, but the perpetrators also got away with it scot free (last I heard the grad students got jobs and moved away and B is still completing his PhD.. ). So what could have the higher ups have done to contain this? Is it really okay to let B and the other grad students get away like this?
Inspite of so many leaps in progress in building a better academia, what is our system still lacking to handle such cases of bullying?