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When Ed's Burn Their Bridges, Leave Them Burned

by Sudhama Ranganathan Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012 at 8:34 AM
uconnharassment@gmail.com

Being involved in harassment no matter who you are or where it happens can be difficult and then some. If it's really deep it can feel as though you're in a situation with few options and/or recourse to getting your head above the problem. You can feel trapped without a clue as to whom to trust within the situation you're in, or as though there are no people you can trust or rely on. You may feel like there is no real way to survive the situation you're in, but to quit, leave, flunk out, stop, drop out or whatever applies to your situation.

There are many books and pop psychologists that contribute their brand of insight into how to deal with such things internally, how to work within a system to deal with such people by going through proper channels, how to deal with such people by alerting outside authorities, who to talk to about redress through the court systems, etc. There are a lot of strategies for dealing with harassment that have been put forth by numerous people and, though they may not apply to your situation specifically there are always bits of wisdom and advice to be gleaned and applied to a situation as, though the details will always be different situation to situation, the underlying framework that each instance of harassment sits on will be very similar.

The strategies used to harass people, especially when the goal is to get people out of a certain place, environment, institution, etc, will be very similar. When you pull out the details of the people, places, etc, you'll see the similarities move even closer.

I went through it myself, and tried reading everything I could find, I tried reading books, I tried contacting experts, but still found myself lost, which is a situation many find themselves in. Let me explain.

To make a long story short, I was a student at the University of Connecticut's Landscape Architecture program between 2003 and 2006 and was harassed for a combination of my race and a felony charge from thirteen years prior to my becoming a college student. The harassment was not the usual sort you get used to as a minority and learn to just let roll off your back. In fact we all have dealt with it in one form or another, however this was concerted and involved everything from subtle harassment to actual physical violence.

The goal was to get me to quit from the pressure, flunk out due to being stressed or to react out of anger to it and do something that would justify my getting kicked out of school or at least the program. What I did once I saw that the harassment was going to be more than the usual was to start to think about how to survive.

See in my situation there were professors involved along with students, and that meant that going to the proper authorities could be dicey. Plus, I had a scholarship that required I go to school continuously once started, maintain a certain GPA and it only lasted through four consecutive years of school. Unfortunately by the time I realized this was more than your average brand of harassment, I was already at the school for almost two years, perhaps more. The program was uniquely designed by the professors and so I could not just transfer out to another school. It was the only program in the state for landscape architecture, and most other undergraduate landscape architecture programs throughout the country are for five years, whereas this was for four. There was no similar undergraduate program at UConn, either and the professors made that all abundantly clear.

I was stuck, and what's more, I was determined to get my degree. My parents worked hard to give me a better life than they had growing up, and this was my chance. I wasn't going to lose it now, and the scholarship was my only way to get through such a program. It would have been very difficult for me to get through school without it. Besides, why should they be allowed to harass people illegally and get away with it? The way one of the professors behaved while it was happening, this was not the first time he had harassed people he didn't want in his program, and he acted as if he had always gotten away with it. There needed to be someone that taught them it was wrong, and that they could not always be successful and get away with it – that mentality helped me at times, anyway. Apparently fate chose me for this situation, not that I'm a believer in it necessarily.

There were many tactics used to try and get me out, and smaller accompanying tactics and strategies in order to get the larger ones to work or to get me into the correct position for the larger ones to work, etc. This required that the multiple people involved, play different roles in each strategy as it played out, to try and position me so when the strategy at hand came to it's completion, it had the desired effect on me. See, there are rules you have to live within that people can say make it hard for the person being harassed, and that's true, you have to follow the rules. But, remember, the people harassing you have rules they have to live by also. My harassers were trying to create a hostile environment that could not easily be proven existed, or that could be calmed down and tucked away so all seemed normal if visitors came through.

See, as tough, authoritative and confident as they may seem, none of them want to get caught. If they did, the harassment would just be out in the open. It would not have to be organized and carefully hidden. They would not go to so much trouble to try and get the result they were looking for. It's illegal. They know it. Once you know that you have been armed with information, and in such situations, the right information is better than anything else.

So for those looking to survive harassment and not just acquiesce and give in, start assessing. Look at the strategies being employed, the people employing them and the rules governing the institution you are in where it is happening, the laws of your town/city, state and the federal laws regulating what is happening to you.

So, as I was saying, once it became obvious I wasn't going easily, the people harassing me needed to become more and more organized and to try and plan out what they were doing. Their strategies became more drawn out, more complex and utilized more side strategies to try and distract me, get me into position, etc. As they experimented with numerous alternate versions of the same handful of strategies, which it always is, they open up more holes for the observant target of the harassment to utilize to develop and launch counter-strategies.

One thing they always did was use students in the degree program that were on the fence about what was happening or neutral as people to help get me into certain positions through building false trust and false friendship. They usually did that by either bribing them somehow, or with threats of punitive action and harassment. Sometimes they weren't on the fence at all, but played friendly to gain my trust. One such person as those on the latter category was named Ed. Ed would be friendly, etc, in order to attempt to demonstrate I could trust him, meanwhile he'd be working to get me into the right position to essentially walk me right into the place they wanted to get the desired result. This could be subtle, like giving me bad information for a project, or playing innocent when the information we were given on a specific project was missing pieces. He would then feign being surprised when we found out – always too late to change the grade.

People playing the role of a false friend, such as, in my situation, Ed, may try a more direct approach by trying to convince you to try another path or to just leave. They do so as if they're saying it because they care about you. But, whatever the case, once I was there long enough, Ed and those like him were outed, either by their own actions or those of others. There were people that were not participating and did not approve of the behavior, but they pretty much tried to stay out and just graduate. I did not blame them.

But what I learned from having stepped into the traps and having been betrayed, is that if you are in such a situation, and have discovered a person like Ed for what they are, that to you should be considered their deal breaking act with you. In other words, that should be how they burn their bridges with you. Never trust them again. You may have to use them and feign they still have your trust, but never forget who they are and what they are. That way you will always know what's coming from them and can keep information from them yourself that will leave them surprised along with the rest when their strategy fails as a result of your countermeasures that they never saw coming, and if done properly never even realized were launched.

It's not something that would apply to your life outside of that kind of situation insofar as advice I would give regarding your life, of course, but in a harassment situation where you realize it's either quit or find alternative, but legal routes to the traditional ones offered, when a person burns that bridge by being outed as an Ed-like person in the overall scheme of things relative to your being harassed, leave that bridge burned. An enemy that does not know you see them for what they are, can be your best ally in a situation like that. Knowing that can help you get through any such experiment.

It worked well for me, as despite their concerted and ridiculous efforts, I graduated. I got to look upon Ed, and the other people that were involved in harassing me, at graduation as I stood with my diploma in hand. It was wonderful and earned. You can do it too. Look at your surroundings, the people there and learn the rules. You may be on your own while going through it as far as your immediate surroundings, but that does not have to be a liability or handicap, so long as you stay aware and keep your mind active, you too can survive. Good luck. ;)

To read about my inspiration for this article go to www.lawsuitagainstuconn.com.

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