WHILE bullying has been around for a long time, it has become even more pervasive through globalisation and technological advancements as they have given rise to cyberbullying and public shaming.
This usually happens when there is an imbalance of power between certain groups of people. However, a less commonly addressed form of bullying is boycotting.
Boycotting is the act of socially excluding and ostracising an individual. This can happen in any setting from the school to the workplace, where an individual gets isolated and ignored by his or her peers.
Boycotting is not as easily spotted and is rarely even recognised or acknowledged, as it utilises more subtle and covert acts compared to verbal or physical bullying.
Instead of verbally or physically hurting the victim, boycotting leads to the victim being systematically distanced, ignored, and isolated through rumours and gossip.
A factor that can lead to boycotting is conformity, which is the tendency for us to behave according to social or group norms.
The victim may not have done anything wrong but due to one or a few members of the group having a prejudiced view of the person, the rest follow suit in ostracising him or her.
In the education scene, when one is part of a minority group, one is often seen as the oddball, and can be subject to humiliation and discrimination if one does not conform to the social norms of the majority group. This can happen due to differences in cultural backgrounds or first language usage.
For example, a student in a majority Mandarin-speaking institution might be isolated or ignored for not being able to communicate in Mandarin. In some cases, the student might even be excluded from participating in events and activities.
Without doubt, all of us play a significant part in stemming this issue. The first step is to address it properly.
Schools should be responsible for addressing any cases of bullying swiftly. Teachers, as well as other staff members, should be trained to be alert to any signs of boycotting, such as student absenteeism and reluctance to participate in any activities with peers.
A high level of absenteeism may be an indicator of the victims’ lack of motivation to attend school due to feeling socially inadequate and unsafe around their peers.
Peer intervention can also be an effective solution beyond making sure that the victims are receiving emotional support.
Students should be taught to overcome the bystander effect by intervening in the situation – safely and rationally – and to stand up for the victims by discrediting rumours.
Boycotting may not involve direct threats or physical harm to the victims, but it can heavily impact their social life and scar them mentally.
Just like victims of other forms of bullying, students who are continuously excluded from their peers may experience serious psychological distress, such as panic attacks, anxiety, and depression.
However, if we are merely focusing primarily on solutions to deal with the victims’ mental health, we are suggesting that the victims should find ways to cope with the harsh reality. This shows a failure in addressing the root of the problem: the bullying and boycotting.
Students should be made aware of the relevant authorities to whom they can reach out and report when they are on the receiving end of bullying.
They must know to immediately inform trusted adults and authorities, such as their teachers and parents, if they are subjected to rumours and social exclusion.
Authority figures such as the principal and the heads of department must hear from all parties involved to have a clearer picture of the situation, as they are responsible for planning immediate interventions and taking the necessary actions to stop the bullying.
Besides mental health helplines, students should be equipped with resources that allow them to stand up for themselves.
Teaching students about self-advocacy will enhance their knowledge and understanding of their rights and needs. This enables them to confidently speak up against bullying and know when to reach out for help.
Charis, 20, a student in Kuala Lumpur, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. To join Star-NiE’s online youth community, go to facebook.com/niebrats.
Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.
1 With an activity partner, discuss three scenarios in which boycotting can happen in school.
2 How do you think peers can intervene and stand up for victims of antisocial behaviour by practising kindness? Suggest three ways and have a class discussion.
The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme promotes the use of English language in primary and secondary schools nationwide. For Star-NiE enquiries, email email@example.com.