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School climate and violence in a university environment: between prevention and promotion of cultures of peace

Clima escolar e violência em ambiente universitário: entre prevenção e promoção de culturas de paz

Clima escolar y violencia en un entorno universitario: entre prevención y promoción de culturas de paz

Abstract

The study is based on several interpretative categories inspired by sociological paradigms that allow us to interpret the external conditioning factors of violence (in a structural perspective), as well as those found in the attitudes, values, and beliefs in people’s daily lives (cultural perspective). The research objectives are to investigate the deterioration of the quality of the relations that occur between professors and students and student-student relationships, as well as that of the institution and its representatives with these two social actors. Reference here is made not so much physical violence, but rather symbolic violence. The methodology involves interviewing students and professors from two universities: one Italian and one Brazilian. The results point to the presence of forms of violence in the academic life of both institutions in the three subject areas, and in general these are expressed in a rather veiled way, especially in the form of symbolic violence.

School Violence; School; University; Prevention; Culture of Peace

Resumo

O estudo parte de algumas categorias interpretativas inspiradas em paradigmas sociológicos, que nos permitem uma leitura dos condicionantes externos da violência (em perspectiva estrutural) como também daqueles que se encontram presentes nas atitudes, valores e crenças, no quotidiano das pessoas (perspectiva cultural). Os objetivos da pesquisa investigam o comprometimento da qualidade das relações que intercorrem entre professores e alunos, mas também dos alunos entre si, e da instituição e seus representantes com esses dois atores sociais. Não tanto a violência física, mas sobretudo a violência simbólica. A metodologia prevê aplicações de entrevistas para alunos e professores de duas universidades: uma italiana e uma brasileira. Os resultados assinalam a presença de formas de violência na vida acadêmica de ambas as instituições nas três áreas temáticas investigadas na análise, e em geral se manifestam de modo bastante velado, sobretudo na forma de violência simbólica.

Violência Escolar; Escola; Universidade; Prevenção; Cultura de Paz

Resumen

El estudio se basa en varias categorías interpeativas inspiradas en paradigmas sociológicos que todos nosotros para interpretar los factores de condicionamiento externos de la violencia (en una perspectiva estructural), así como los que se encuentran en las actitudes, valores y creencias en la vida diaria de las personas (perspectiva cultural). Los objetivos de investigación son investigar el compromiso de calidad de las relaciones profesor-alumno, así como la de la institución y sus representantes con estos dos actores sociales. No se trata tanto de la violencia física, sino por sobretodo de la violencia simbólica. La metodología implica entrevistar a estudiantes y maestros de dos universidades: uno italiano y otro brasileño. Los resultados apuntan a la presencia de formas de violencia en la vida académica de ambas instituciones en las tres áreas temáticas investigadas en el análisis, y en general estas se expresan de manera bastante velada, especialmente en forma de violencia simbólica.

Violencia Escolar; Escuela; Universidad; Prevención; Cultura de Paz

1 Introduction

This article presents the results obtained in the field research entitled “School violence in a university environment between Brasilia and Rome: interpretations and fostering cultures of peace,” submitted for Public Notice No. 63/2019 – Selection process for post-doctoral fellows abroad. In particular, this article presents the results of qualitative research. In a second article, the results related to quantitative research will be presented.

Studies have shown that preserving a favorable climate for coexistence within school environments tends to benefit learning (MELO; MORAIS, 2019MELO, S. G.; MORAIS, A. Clima escolar como fator protetivo ao desempenho em condições socioeconômicas desfavoráveis. Cadernos de Pesquisa, São Paulo, v. 49, n. 172, p. 10-34, apr./jun. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1590/198053145305
https://doi.org/10.1590/198053145305...
; POULIN et al ., 2015). We analyze recent literature, working on the principle that it is the perceptions and expectations built within the school environment that work as a matrix for the different actors to define themselves and relate to the school. Various dimensions in the analysis of the school climate are considered, including: relations with teaching and learning, social relations and conflicts that occur mainly between students, students and professors, and with service and administrative staff; the “normalization” of manifestations of violence at school (RODAS, 2022RODAS, J. J. M. Violencia y conflicto como elementos centrales para el deterioro del contexto educativo de la Educación Básica y Media en instituciones educativas públicas. Ensaio: Avaliação e Políticas Públicas em Educação, Rio de Janeiro, v. 30, n. 115, abr./jun. 2022. https://doi.org/10.1590/S0104-403620210002902801
https://doi.org/10.1590/S0104-4036202100...
); standards and safety within the teaching unit, not in the punitive sense, but mainly preventive in which the educational community is aware of the different standards and feels responsible for their defense and enforcement. In addition to the above factors, those linked to people’s perception of the structure, organization and look of the school are identified, as well as how professors and faculty members feel in working relationships and good relations with the local community and parents (MELO; MORAIS, 2019MELO, S. G.; MORAIS, A. Clima escolar como fator protetivo ao desempenho em condições socioeconômicas desfavoráveis. Cadernos de Pesquisa, São Paulo, v. 49, n. 172, p. 10-34, apr./jun. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1590/198053145305
https://doi.org/10.1590/198053145305...
). French authors emphasize how

[...] the type of school management, the presence of clear rules known to all, the perception of a fair and safe environment, the establishment of positive and supportive interpersonal relationships, and the involvement of students with their parents are all aspects that would foster academic success and prevent victimization at school (POULIN et al. , 2015, p. 14).

Miranda, Bertagna, and Freitas (2019) also cite several factors that tend to positively affect school climate, such as relationships with students’ families, management leadership, cordiality in relationships, maintenance of school discipline, and a motivational level sufficient to ensure that the various actors invest in teaching and learning.

Problems in the university educational environment can primarily cause dropout, which Pedraza et al . (2018) identify, in the individual area, such as family and personal problems; in the academic area, by low academic performance; in the institutional area, by the lack of support from the Higher Education Institution (HEI); and in the socioeconomic area, by the lack of resources to finance their own studies. The authors do not identify the relational area, i.e., that which concerns the quality of the relationships experienced by individuals within universities.

2 Violence that is fed from a social structure

From a structural perspective we can identify several approaches to violence: while provoked by structural tensions, it tends to manifest itself as collective; while provoked by the unease of those who feel deprived of institutional means for the achievement of culturally shared goals and desires (anomie theory), it manifests itself through reactions of rebellion, flight, innovation; while provoked by a feeling of relative deprivation, whose sources are found in social inequality, it seems to have a strong responsibility in the creation of a malaise provoking deviant, transgressive and even violent reactions; while fostered by processes of modernization and change (urbanization, literacy, educational and media demand), it is also seen as a premise for violent behavior insofar as the price of modernity tends to produce political conflicts whose origins lies in unresolved and unfulfilled aspirations and expectations.

According to Wolfgang and Ferracuti (1971)WOLFGANG, V. M; FERRACUTI, F. La subcultura de la violencia: hacia una teoría criminológica. Mexico: Background of Economic Culture, 1971., violence finds its origins in a subcultural normative system that grows within determined social groups, having the capacity to mold its members to a complex of normative codes, values, attitudes and material interests. Rodas (2022)RODAS, J. J. M. Violencia y conflicto como elementos centrales para el deterioro del contexto educativo de la Educación Básica y Media en instituciones educativas públicas. Ensaio: Avaliação e Políticas Públicas em Educação, Rio de Janeiro, v. 30, n. 115, abr./jun. 2022. https://doi.org/10.1590/S0104-403620210002902801
https://doi.org/10.1590/S0104-4036202100...
asserts how violence and conflict in schools end up “naturalizing” the elements that make up the categories of analysis of those issues.

The development of attitudes favorable to violence and the custom of using it within certain subcultures imply a learning of behaviors, norms, attitudes, and values within a process of learning, association, and identification.

3 Violence that is nurtured within a culture

In 1955, Cohen (p. 12), in “Delinquent boys”, pointed out how

in the language of contemporary sociology, it is said that juvenile delinquency is a subculture. The concept of culture seems all too familiar to a modern layperson. It refers to knowledge, beliefs, values, codes, tastes and prejudices that are traditional in social groups and acquired through participation in such groups.

According to the subculture of violence thesis, some groups are more violent than others because they have assumed a distinct hierarchy of values that supports and tolerates violence. The subculture of violence was studied both at the macro and microsocial levels. Macrosocial research typically focuses on the geographic distribution of violence rates, but ultimately fails to measure the adherence of specific social groups to the subculture of violence.

According to the subculture of violence thesis, values would tend to mediate the relationship between class, race and region on one side, and violence on the other. These studies tend to find a low correlation between values and violence, but as they are focused exclusively on individuals, they tend to ignore that group norms are more important than personal values in the process of producing violent behaviors.

Violent subcultures are more likely to develop in small groups than in large societal clusters; however, they can also thrive in intermediate social units, such as those that grow through problematic social relationships in the neighborhood and in schools.

4 Symbolic violence

There are several recent studies on symbolic violence. Some refer to the term subtle violence, which is expressed, according to the authors, in the use of nicknames, in crude forms of treatment, mocking, and violent jokes aimed at entertaining the audience (LIBARDI; CASTRO, 2014LIBARDI, S. S.; CASTRO, L. R. Violências “sutis”: jovens e grupos de pares na escola. Fractal: Revista de Psicologia, Niterói, v. 26, n. 3, p. 943-962, set./dez; 2014. https://doi.org/10.1590/1984-0292/1237
https://doi.org/10.1590/1984-0292/1237...
). Other authors talk about subjective and objective violence (ZANATTA et al ., 2018). Žižek refers to the

[...] complex interaction of the three modes of violence: subjective, objective and symbolic. The lesson is, therefore, that one must resist the allure of subjective violence, violence perpetrated by social agents, malevolent individuals, disciplined repressive instruments and fanatical mobs; subjective violence is only the most visible of the three (ŽIŽEK, 2008ŽIŽEK, S. Violence: six sideways reflections. New York: Picador, 2008., p. 11, our translation).

Eschewing, then, the allure of subjective violence, Žižek warns that the researcher must pay attention to “social-symbolic violence (which) in its purest form appears as its opposite, as the spontaneity of the environment in which we live, the air we breathe” (2008, p. 36). A perspective close to that of Bourdieu (1989)BOURDIEU, P. Social space and symbolic power. Sociological Theory, [s. l.], v. 7, n. 1, p. 14-25, Spring 1989., for whom society builds a symbolic system as an instrument of domination when it establishes distinctions between social groups, legitimizes social hierarchies and reinforces unequal relations between the dominant and the dominated.

Regarding the reality in Brazil, there is research analyzing the way social columns, through rankings about “who is who” in the social elites build a symbolic space of belonging and distinction, create boundaries between elite culture and popular culture, in turn creating criteria of refinement, superiority and barriers of belonging (SILVA, 2019).

Other authors distinguish between explicit and implicit violence (LIBARDI; CASTRO, 2014LIBARDI, S. S.; CASTRO, L. R. Violências “sutis”: jovens e grupos de pares na escola. Fractal: Revista de Psicologia, Niterói, v. 26, n. 3, p. 943-962, set./dez; 2014. https://doi.org/10.1590/1984-0292/1237
https://doi.org/10.1590/1984-0292/1237...
). The first refers to formal episodes that tend to cause physical damage to objects and people. The second type is described as a “subtle”, veiled violence that is sometimes difficult to identify, except by those who suffer it. The latter is placed in the context of symbolic violence. More specifically in the field of manifestations of violence, Malette’s (2017)MALETTE, N. Forms of fighting: a micro-social analysis of bullying and in-school violence. Canadian Journal of Education, [s. l.], v. 40, n. 1, p. 1-29, 2017. research in Canadian schools identifies some ways in which it is made possible through bullying , scapegoating, fights to defend honor, group fights, revenge-taking and payback for other acts, whether violent or not.

Symbolic violence is also present in the sports and university environment (MICHETTI; VON METTENHEIM, 2019; D’OLIVEIRA, 2019D’OLIVEIRA, A. F. Invisibilidade e banalização da violência contra as mulheres na universidade: reconhecer para mudar. Interface, Porto Alegre, v. 23:e190650, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1590/ Interface.190650
https://doi.org/10.1590/ Interface.19065...
; LANGE et al ., 2015). The authors use the concept of symbolic violence in the sense used by Bourdieu – as a result of the symbolic capital accumulated in culture. They show how in sports activities and social relations on the university campuses surveyed, women were seen in relation to fan songs; the sexual objectification of women, the exaltation of sexual violence and apology for rape, students portrayed as sluts or tramps to offend the honor of men belonging to the college or university, mockery of beauty or ugliness and class discrimination (maids). This symbolic violence is reproduced in the lodgings, the games and at parties. Some studies focus on sexual violence in which they assess the prevalence of gender and sexual violence and its association with gender attitude and the experience of suffering and perpetrating violence among students at a public university in Brazil (ZOTARELI et al. , 2012). Indeed, this perspective of analysis on symbolic and cultural violence is notably found in the writings of authors such as Bourdieu (1989BOURDIEU, P. Social space and symbolic power. Sociological Theory, [s. l.], v. 7, n. 1, p. 14-25, Spring 1989., 2004BOURDIEU, P. Coisas ditas. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 2004.) and Galtung (1990GALTUNG, J. Cultural violence. Journal of Peace Research, [s. l.], v. 27, n. 3, p. 291-305, 1990. https://doi.org/10.1177/002234339002700300
https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343390027003...
, 2018GALTUNG, J. Violence, peace and peace research. Organicom, [s. l.], v. 15, n. 28, p. 33-56, 2018. https://doi.org/10.11606/issn.2238-2593.organicom.2018.150546
https://doi.org/10.11606/issn.2238-2593....
). On the one hand we have Bourdieu, who in the 1980s had already theorized in the field of sociology about symbolic violence. On the other hand, in the political and cultural fields, it is Galtung (1990GALTUNG, J. Cultural violence. Journal of Peace Research, [s. l.], v. 27, n. 3, p. 291-305, 1990. https://doi.org/10.1177/002234339002700300
https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343390027003...
, p. 291) who defines the concept of cultural violence.

By ‘cultural violence’, we refer to those aspects of culture; the symbolic sphere of our existence exemplified by religion and ideology, language and art, empirical science and formal science (logic, mathematics) that can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence (GALTUNG, 1990GALTUNG, J. Cultural violence. Journal of Peace Research, [s. l.], v. 27, n. 3, p. 291-305, 1990. https://doi.org/10.1177/002234339002700300
https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343390027003...
, p. 291, our translation).

Galtung differentiates between direct violence, which is eventual physical and symbolic violence, and structural violence, which is crystallized in the institutional order of a society and tends to justify inequality and social distinction to maintain parameters of inclusion and exclusion. Cultural violence, in turn, is internalized from legitimation mechanisms and reproduced in the ideological, political and educational arena (FLICKINGER, 2018FLICKINGER, H-G. Johan Galtung e a violência escolar. Roteiro, Joaçaba, v. 43, n. 2, p. 433-448, maio/ago. 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.18593/r.v43i2.16095
http://dx.doi.org/10.18593/r.v43i2.16095...
; GALTUNG, 1990GALTUNG, J. Cultural violence. Journal of Peace Research, [s. l.], v. 27, n. 3, p. 291-305, 1990. https://doi.org/10.1177/002234339002700300
https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343390027003...
, 2018GALTUNG, J. Violence, peace and peace research. Organicom, [s. l.], v. 15, n. 28, p. 33-56, 2018. https://doi.org/10.11606/issn.2238-2593.organicom.2018.150546
https://doi.org/10.11606/issn.2238-2593....
; LOPES, 2013LOPES, F. T. P. The concepts of peace and cultural violence: contributions and limits of Johan Galtung’s work for the analysis of violent conflicts. Athenea Digital, Barcelona, v. 13, n. 2, p. 169-177, 2013. https://doi.org/10.5565/rev/athenea.1068
https://doi.org/10.5565/rev/athenea.1068...
), and even in beauty and aesthetic norms (OYEDEMI, 2016OYEDEMI, T. Beauty as violence: ‘beautiful’ hair and the cultural violence of identity erasure. Social Identities, [s. l.], v. 22, n. 5, p. 537-553, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2016.1157465
https://doi.org/10.1080/13504630.2016.11...
).

We believe that cultural violence can also be exercised within schools, from the moment that – in a society composed of various cultural trends – some cultural and social groups prevail and impose their preferences. Bourdieu explains the reproductive function of social structures exercised by the school as follows: “Official nomination, that is, the act whereby someone is granted a title, a socially recognized qualification, is one of the most typical expressions of that monopoly over legitimate symbolic violence which belongs to the state or to its representatives” (BOURDIEU, 1989, p. 21). The author sees the State as the holder of this power exercised on behalf of the wealthy classes, who certify which culture is to be reproduced in society through the school.

5 Violence in schools

Schools are inserted in the social context in which they are located by the simple fact that they receive students from their surroundings. In general, the problem of violence in schools continues to manifest itself, partly as a sounding board for the environment, and partly as the subject of institutional violence itself and the reproducer of violent social relations. It is a matter of social concern and a constant object of investigation.

Recent research reveals how the factors that tend to influence the levels of violence in the school environment are linked to the students’ socioeconomic conditions and the availability of resources in the school environment; however, it also reveals the influence of the family background , more precisely the influence of culture and socialization (TAVARES; PIETROBON, 2016). Some authors review the production in the area and express how “studies on the subject occur around the world, with social skills, with an emphasis on empathy and problem-solving skills, as well as anger management” (STROPPA; LOURENÇO, 2018STROPPA, T. V. S.; LOURENÇO, L. M. Propostas atuais de intervenção em violência escolar: uma revisão da produção científica. Perspectivas em Psicologia, Uberlândia, v. 15, n. 1, p. 34-45, jun. 2018., p. 34). They also highlight the prevalence of studies aimed at evaluating programs to prevent and combat violence (SILVA; ASSIS, 2018SILVA, F. R.; ASSIS, S. G. Prevenção da violência escolar: uma revisão da literatura. Educação e Pesquisa, São Paulo, v. 44, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1590/S1517-9702201703157305
https://doi.org/10.1590/S1517-9702201703...
). Iijima and Schroeder (2012)IIJIMA, D.; SCHROEDER, T. M. R. Pesquisa sobre violência escolar no Brasil. Revista Travessias, Cascavel, v. 6, n. 3, p. 1-17, 2012., in turn, emphasize how studies on school violence have grown, especially from a sociological and psychological perspective.

Sposito (1998SPOSITO, M. P. A instituição escolar e a violência. Cadernos de Pesquisa, São Paulo, n. 104, p. 58-75, 1998., p. 75) points out that “violence is merely the most visible conduct of refusal of values transmitted by the adult world” and how the school could not break through the veil of indifference of the students to a world impervious to their action.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) Chair of Youth, Education and Society, in turn, focuses much of its research on the issue of school violence. There are publications focused on the issue of violence and school (PAULO; ALMEIDA, 2015PAULO, T. S; ALMEIDA, S. F. C. Violência e escola: escuta de professores e análise das práticas profissionais de orientação psicanalítica. Brasília, DF: Liber Livro: UCB, 2015.), violence and Human Rights (CALIMAN, 2013CALIMAN, G. (org.). Violências e direitos humanos: espaços da educação. Brasília, DF: Liber Livro: Cátedra UNESCO/UCB, 2013.; CARVALHO; MORAES; CARVALHO, 2019), the mediation of violence aimed at adolescents in situations of social vulnerability (BRASIL; DRIEU, 2016BRASIL, K. T.; DRIEU, D. (orgs.). Mediação, simbolização e espaço grupal: propostas de intervenções com adolescentes vulneráveis. Brasília, DF: Unesco, 2016.), the cultural dimension of violence (GOMES; NASCIMENTO; KOEHLER, 2012) and prevention through the dissemination of methodologies aimed at building cultures of peace (PUIN; ARTEAGA; SIMANCA, 2021; SOARES; TEIXEIRA, 2018SOARES, E. M. S.; TEIXEIRA, L. M. (orgs.). Práticas educativas e cultura de paz: articulando saberes e fazeres. Caxias do Sul: Educs, 2018.; UNRIZA-PUIN; ARTEAGA; HERRERA, 2021).

Some definitions of violence emphasize “the threat or use of physical force with the intent to cause offense, harm, or intimidation to another person” (ELLIOTT; HAMBURG; WILLIAMS, 1998). Other preventive intervention efforts use broader definitions of violence, which include delinquent and antisocial behavior, verbal abuse, threat of weapons use, vandalism, and property-related crimes (DEBARBIEUX; BLAYA, 2002DEBARBIEUX, E.; BLAYA, C. (orgs.). Violência nas escolas e políticas públicas. Brasília, DF: Unesco, 2002., p. 18). Debardieux and Blaya problematize the concept, initially questioning its amplitude, and later elucidating its socially constructed origin, the risk of amplification by the media, the current tendency to focus on violence from the victim’s point of view, and the confusion between violence and “incivilities” (microviolence) that occur much more in the realm of social deviance than in the delinquency realm.

At the turn of the millennium, Charlot (2002)CHARLOT, B. A violência na escola: como os sociólogos franceses abordam essa questão. Interface, Porto Alegre, v. 4, n. 8, p. 432-443, dez. 2002. https://doi.org/10.1590/S1517-45222002000200016
https://doi.org/10.1590/S1517-4522200200...
contributed to the design of so much research on school violence. The author categorizes the types of violence: among those directed at the school; the violence caused by the school system itself and, therefore, of institutional character; and the violence that can occur at school. A second distinction concerns the degree of violent acts: between those committed against the law (violence); those committed against the internal rules of the school (transgression); and those that violate the basic rules of good coexistence (incivilities). In fact, “the school is the perpetrator, victim and stage of violence” (GALVÃO et al ., 2010, p. 437).

School violence manifests and can be identified in a threefold origin (CHARLOT, 2002CHARLOT, B. A violência na escola: como os sociólogos franceses abordam essa questão. Interface, Porto Alegre, v. 4, n. 8, p. 432-443, dez. 2002. https://doi.org/10.1590/S1517-45222002000200016
https://doi.org/10.1590/S1517-4522200200...
; GALVÃO, 2002GALVÃO, I. Integração entre polícia e escola e algumas possibilidades de combate à violência. Revista do ILANUD, São Paulo, n. 23, p. 33-42, 2002.): (1) the violence present in the social context that may constitute a breeding ground for the reproduction of violent attitudes, values and behavior; (2) violence against the school, which manifests itself in aggressions against the school institution and what it stands for; (3) institutional or school violence that manifests itself in forms of discrimination, exclusion and symbolic violence committed by the institution.

Entering more specifically in the field of research on violence in schools are those developed by the Unesco Chair of Youth, Education and Society (CALIMAN, 2008CALIMAN, G. Paradigmas da exclusão social. Brasília, DF: Universidade Católica de Brasília: Universa: Unesco, 2008., 2013CALIMAN, G. (org.). Violências e direitos humanos: espaços da educação. Brasília, DF: Liber Livro: Cátedra UNESCO/UCB, 2013.; GOMES; NASCIMENTO; KOEHLER, 2012; PAULO; ALMEIDA, 2015PAULO, T. S; ALMEIDA, S. F. C. Violência e escola: escuta de professores e análise das práticas profissionais de orientação psicanalítica. Brasília, DF: Liber Livro: UCB, 2015.). With expressive repercussion we also highlight other Unesco research that marked the educational policies in this area (ABRAMOVAY, 2005ABRAMOVAY, M. (coord.). Cotidiano das escolas: entre violências. Brasília, DF: Unesco; 2005.; CHARLOT, 2002CHARLOT, B. A violência na escola: como os sociólogos franceses abordam essa questão. Interface, Porto Alegre, v. 4, n. 8, p. 432-443, dez. 2002. https://doi.org/10.1590/S1517-45222002000200016
https://doi.org/10.1590/S1517-4522200200...
; DEBARBIEUX; BLAYA, 2002DEBARBIEUX, E.; BLAYA, C. (orgs.). Violência nas escolas e políticas públicas. Brasília, DF: Unesco, 2002.).

There is always a risk that the violence present in the territory will reproduce within schools (PICCOLI; LENA; GONÇALVES, 2019). Embedded in a context of micro-violence, violence often ends up being reproduced in the relational area, among students and between students and professors, stimulating episodes of symbolic violence and micro-violence.

Among recent articles on violence in schools, we identified those focused on relationships between professors and students and on violence against professors. In the relationship between professors and students, manifestations of physical violence and verbal violence are perceived: “threat, humiliation, prejudice, authoritarianism, punishment, discrimination, insults, intimidation, embarrassment, indifference, exclusion, profanity, cursing, omission, professors bullying, neglect, imposition of values” (SILVA; SILVA, 2018SILVA, M.; SILVA, A. G. Professores e alunos: o engendramento da violência da escola. Educação & Realidade, Porto Alegre, v. 43, n. 2, p. 471-494, 2018. https://doi . org/10.1590/2175-623664089
https://doi . org/10.1590/2175-623664089...
, p. 480). In specific research on violence against professors, it is concluded that “[...] it is evident that the faculty members surveyed are not direct victims of serious violations [...] but of microviolence (insults, contempt, intimidation, disdain and humiliation)” (PEREIRA; ZUIN, 2019PEREIRA, A. I. B.; ZUIN, A. A. S. Autoridade enfraquecida, violência contra professores e trabalho pedagógico. Educar em Revista, Curitiba, v. 35, n. 76, p. 1-20, jul./ago. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1590/0104-4060.64821
https://doi.org/10.1590/0104-4060.64821...
, p. 19). Research carried out in a university environment reports how this phenomenon manifests subtly, in the form of games, nicknames, pranks, mockery and physical aggression (PANÚNCIO-PINTO; ALPES; COLARES, 2019).

6 Qualitative research and content analysis methodology

At this juncture, we wish to analyze the impairment of the quality of the relationships that take place between professors and students, but also between students themselves, and the institution and its representatives with these two social actors. In particular, cases of violence in relations. Not so much physical violence, but especially symbolic violence that tends to generate enough discomfort to drive students away from universities, to lower the level of their learning. We believe that the clarification of such relationships can provide answers to improve the school climate.

This research concerns three groups of so-called “privileged witnesses”, people who, because of their role, although at different levels, (as professors or as students), were interviewed to give direct/personal testimony on the subject under analysis in two academic institutions, a Brazilian University and an Italian University. The Brazilian university is characterized as a private university, with approximately fifteen thousand students, located in a capital city. Its students are mostly young people from middle and working-class families. The Italian university is characterized as a confessional, private university, with approximately three thousand students. Most of them attend undergraduate and graduate programs.

We intend to proceed with the content analysis and treatment of the interviews:

  1. First of all, we considered the distribution of the description of the results into six topics, according to the thematic subdivision of the interviews, analyzing each of the answers and their content relative to the questions pertaining to each topic.

  2. We then analyze the content that emerges, considering in sequence the answers from 16 professors from a Brazilian University (Uni-BR), 9 professors from an Italian University (Uni-IT), and 4 students from an Italian University (Uni-IT). The criterion used to select professors could not follow the original plan, which was to conduct interviews with randomly selected individuals. Due to the suspension of face-to-face classes as a consequence of the pandemic, professors who were available at the institutions during that period (April to September 2020) were selected.

  3. At the end of each topic, we create a summary of the content, setting them against each other, or with the three groups of interviewees.

  4. Once the analysis of the content from the six topics is completed, the report concludes with a picture of the results obtained in relation to the general and specific objectives underlying the research project.

The informants were identified with the acronyms Uni-BR (for Brazilian University), and Uni-IT (for Italian University).

7 Results

We then report the results that emerge in each of the six areas investigated, which are those: between expectations and benefits expected from institutions, the perception of the school climate within universities, student-administrative relations, relations between students and faculty, student relations with each other, and the norms in place at the university regarding harassment and violence. The following is a final assessment aimed at achieving the overall objective underlying the research.

1.From the content in relation to the expectations and benefits of students/professors in relation to universities, it is clear that from observing the two academic institutions, there is a part that unites them and another that differentiates them. What they have in common is the interest/attention to provide comprehensive and professional training, which is widely shared by both. What differentiates them should be seen above all in the fact that, while at Uni-BR, everyone tends to make positive evaluations, within Uni-IT one notices a certain mood, although partly in a minority, as they would like to improve a formative system that some have defined as “generalized/standardized” and even “secularized”, not defining themselves according to the principles that guide it. It is a discontent that is not limited to faculty members but is also confirmed by a proportion of the students.

2.Regarding the perception of the school climate in the two academic institutions, some common traits can be observed among professors: first, there is a clear division between those who perceive that everything is going well and those who also highlight critical aspects and/or what should be improved. On the part of the latter, there is a greater convergence with regard to the relations that occur within the two institutions: the relations between professors and students are evaluated as “good”; and between students and administrators, “not so good”.

From the observations of participants of the Uni-IT, there are divergences, both among the faculty and among students. There are those who see everything well on both sides: welcoming environment, intercultural exchange, privileged allegiance; and those who highlight the less positive and critical sides, between “ambiguous” climate, loss of enrollment, deficiency in relations with students, “ruptures” in relations between allegiances (Italian/non-Italian; religious/non-religious). In this regard, it is advisable to make better use of periodic self-assessments in courses, departments and colleges.

3.From the series of responses regarding the relationships between students and campus administrators/managers , no forms of violence emerge from all three actors in the research that could be related to actual aggressive actions. In general, relationships are classified as “good” and “respectful.” However, the following drawbacks were observed (particularly at Uni-IT): tensions; covert relationships characterized by forms of discrimination, paternalism/despotism in the management of power, forms of pressure/precariousness, deficit management at both campuses.

4.Regarding the relationships between professors and students , we noted: a) that a minority portion of the interviewees tend to deny the presence of forms of violence between professors and students or, even if they admit it, they are not specified; b) those that instead specify the form of the relationships highlighted by all three groups of interviewees, in particular those concerning veiled discrimination toward black, scholarship, and non-European students. Other cases concern the occurrence of: provocations, jokes, aggressive verbal expressions (Uni-BR); intellectual arrogance, ideological misunderstandings, lack of intercultural sensitivity (Uni-IT).

It is clear that the latter issue has openly revealed the confirmation and specification of the existence of various forms of violence of a symbolic type between professors and students from both universities. A fact that was already possible to perceive from the previous question, but which is revealed in a veiled way.

In particular, one cannot help but notice that from testimonies of Uni-IT respondents, professors and students, reports emerge of arrogance and lack of intercultural sensitivity on the part of some professors towards non-European students. Specifically, for Uni-IT, an institution that prides itself for its internationality (many students from non-European countries), this would show serious problems not only in the style of internal relations, but also at the pedagogical-methodological level, considering that the testimonies refer to specific episodes of symbolic violence, “intercultural insensitivity” and “arrogance”.

5.With regard to student-student relations , it appears that: a) at least half of the professors of both institutions deny the presence of forms of violence in student-student relations. Several support activities are noted, especially at Uni-IT, to improve relations between Italian and non-Italian students; b) a marked denial of the occurrence of forms of violence by a group of professors is, however, denied by the other half of them. As for the actors of Uni-BR, episodes of discrimination, bullying , and offenses in various ways are reported; and at Uni-IT, although in less rare cases, but still present, there is a lack of relationship or even manifestations of isolation between religious and lay people, between Italians and non-Italians, and a certain lack of respect for the environment; c) the manifestation of deficient/selective/unsatisfactory relations between students is confirmed by all the Uni-IT students interviewed.

Therefore, there is also an additional confirmation in this area of the presence of forms of violence among students from both institutions. A confirmation that adds to and redefines what has already been observed in the two previous areas (student-managers, student-professors) and suggests that the phenomenon is more extensive than one would like to admit, as it comes from the “perception” of half of the professors at both institutions.

6.Regarding the knowledge of the presence, in both academic institutions, of rules/regulations aimed at regulating social relations on campus , we note that: a) aside from the perception of a minority, the presence of regulations is confirmed by the majority of the three groups of interviewees; b) among those who admit their presence, some professors also identify such norms, while students tend to have a positive opinion about their functioning; c) criticism about the insufficiency/obsolescence of the norms also emerges, as noted by some Uni-IT professors.

All this confirms that the regulation exists, but that it should perhaps be updated or effectively applied, especially to improve the climate of relations between the various actors of the academic life of both institutions. As someone pointed out, in recent years these regulations have been neglected, both at Uni-BR and Uni-IT. It can be assumed that after the epidemic and with the resumption of academic activities, regulations will also undergo revision.

8 Suggestions for prevention

At this point, if we want this project to achieve its goals, based on the objectives that it set out to reach, we must answer the following questions: What improvements must be made to safeguard the quality of relationships between different actors in both universities and, consequently, the quality of the educational offer? What can be done to develop cultures of peace?

Olvera and Gutiérrez (2020)OLVERA, A.C.; GUTIÉRREZ, J.A.L. Política educativa, violencia y convivencia escolar. La experiencia en dos escuelas. Ensaio: Avaliação e Políticas Públicas em Educação, Rio de Janeiro, v. 28, n. 107, abr./jun. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1590/S0104-40362019002701955 .
https://doi.org/10.1590/S0104-4036201900...
recommend, in similar situations, after diagnosing the issue of school violence, the implementation of a policy for school coexistence. Referring to the most reported discriminatory/transgressive/offensive behaviors, the improvements should involve:

  1. In relationships between students: avoiding gossip as much as possible, forms of provocation, prejudice, defamation, ridicule, teasing, name-calling, preventing participation in activities, abusive behavior, and/or ways of irritating people through gestures and comments of sexual nature.

  2. While in relationships between students and professors/administrators, although there have been no particular reports of transgressive behaviors, there is, however, an appeal from interviewees to overcome, in particular, certain forms of prejudice that lead to separating students from those to whom they give more or less attention, according to the strengths or weaknesses they carry (performance, language proficiency, “if you’re with me, feel protected”...).

To achieve improvements in those forms of behavior, considering the entire front of internal relationships within campus life, however, it is necessary to start by removing the main obstacles that are at its origin, and that belong to those of operational and cultural order:

Operational: tendency to form closed, exclusive groups (cliques), privileging some and discriminating against others;

And cultural: dependence on easy prejudices that range from sexism towards female students, to all other forms of referring to the “different”, to those who “are not one of us”, to those “who do not have the same rights as us”.

It is from the intersection of these two factors that the attitudes that give rise to discriminatory behaviors, prejudices, separations, privileged relationships, and forms of exclusion in part of the student body, as well as professors and staff, are also determined.

To overcome those forms of ghettoization and relational impoverishment, the only viable way is to offer educational activities aimed at a mental openness towards everything that is “different”. The richness of these two academic institutions lies precisely in the abundant presence of “diversities” amongst the student populations that live in them, and it is precisely from here that we must start giving new formative impetus.

9 Conclusions

At this point, it is necessary to refer expressly to the general objective underlying the research: are forms of violence found, and are they part of the relationships/interactions between the different actors in the academic life of both institutions? If so, what kind are they? What are their causes? Is it a phenomenon perceived by everyone?

Regarding the first question, the answer is obvious: the presence of forms of violence in the academic life of both institutions was confirmed by the results in the three thematic areas responsible for the analysis of student-administrative/management relations (n. 3), student-professors (n. 4) and student-students (n. 5). The emerging content in these areas is already sufficient to support that the investigation has achieved the general objective proposed by the research.

As for the type of violence, it hardly ever manifests itself in expressly aggressive forms of the physical violence type. However, in general, it seems quite veiled, masked by jokes, aggressive words, vulgarities, and segregation into “cliques”.

At the origin of this violence, the factor that triggers the most evident expressions manifests itself in various forms of discrimination: between Italians/foreigners; between religious and non-religious groups; between those who behave with intellectual arrogance and those affected by learning, skills, language deficits; between those who administer/manage power (intellectual, economic) and services, in a disrespectful manner toward those with a different skin color and/or from foreign countries.

All this not only compromises the expected image of a university, which the components of the two universities believe they possess, but as was observed by several respondents: valuable opportunities to promote educational solutions in the intercultural field are lost. The “integral” formation of the personality, according to the requirements propounded by the rules and regulations of the institution, is jeopardized; the expectations and benefits expected from those who are an active part of campus life, even if at different levels, by professors or students, are frustrated.

Finally, in relation to the last question, concerning those who perceive the presence of forms of violence on campus , it is necessary to distinguish between: a first group of “orthodox” professors, that is, those who note that they “do not see” and/or “do not want to see” acts of violence on campus , also due to the fact that the phenomenon is hardly reconcilable with the principles that guide the universities investigated, as the participants of the two academic institutions proudly point out. A second group that “sees” but does not have the courage to specify forms of violence between professors and students, sometimes justifying such a position with the fact that it is difficult to discern phenomena of violence, between submerged attitudes/behavior and other more explicit forms.

Finally, we noted a portion of professors and students who reveal, with a certain sense of responsibility, forms of violence related to the various modalities investigated. The latter are the “tip of the iceberg,” a minority among the interviewees, but a significant minority nonetheless, because they witness the existence of certain forms of violence: violence that is seldom seen, veiled, disguised, between teacher-students, students-students, and administrators/managers and students, which is symbolic, nonetheless.

We are therefore facing a “submerged” phenomenon, but precisely for this reason, like an “iceberg”, it is assumed that below the visible level, forms of symbolic violence are more perceptible and extensive than is apparently observed. Also consider the fact that, as pointed out by the research revisited in the theoretical framework, in recent years the phenomenon has been growing. At this point, the investigation brought to the surface what might be submerged, what is there unseen, what one does not want to see in order not to “tarnish the image of the institutions”.

From the unveiling of this submerged phenomenon, interventions are expected that can help academic communities to become aware and review the style of relationships between the different actors of campus life, privileging/rediscovering the opportunities they offer, in particular those related to the scale of intercultural values. It is primarily the level of international exchange between different cultures that enriches and gives meaning to the “image” and “concept” that professors and students believe they cultivate about the two academic institutions.

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Data availability

Data: The dataset used in this manuscript is available in Zenodo: https://zenodo.org/record/7709147#.ZAjSnnbMKUl DOI: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7709147 Access at 23/08/03

Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    15 Sept 2023
  • Date of issue
    Oct-Dec 2023

History

  • Received
    19 Apr 2022
  • Accepted
    24 Mar 2023
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