The Power of an Induced Sense of Betrayal

The Power of an Induced Sense of Betrayal

When I was a student at the University of Connecticut, matriculated in the landscape architecture program, I experienced three years of group harassment.  I graduated and have thought long and hard about what happened, how it happened and what to do in order to prevent it happening in the future to other people.  Fortunately for me, I documented some of it through video and audio evidence.  This, backed up with still images and documentation, helped me to remember, recount and to make sense of it in some ways.


The harassment was due to my involvement in a violent student protest in 1990 combined with my race.  The protest was from 1990 as I mentioned, but the harassment happened when I went to school at UConn’s Storrs campus mostly between 2003 and 2006.  Those doing the harassment were using emotions from post 9/11 trauma and trying to link Al Qaeda type terrorism to what I did back then.

But what I did was about the system of Apartheid in South Africa at the time and perceived racial injustices.  It was specifically planned to be an act of vandalism so no person got hurt.

It wasn’t about Islam or any other religion.  I wasn’t a Muslim then nor am I now, not that that matters, because not all Muslims, just like not all Christians, believe the same things.  The people who did that were religious extremists, just like the people who did the Oklahoma City Bombing were political extremists.  The people who harassed me weren’t given all the facts about what happened when I did what I did, so none of what really happened mattered to them.  They had decided, and they were out for blood.


The harassment started in my sophomore year mostly from one professor who spread this post-9/11 hysteria across the class I was to be graduating with.  We were a group and his goal was to extricate me from the group.  It was a small graduating class of 22 people and so it made containing an open secret easy.

He first recruited those who found pleasure in such behavior, next were those who would do it in exchange for better grades or time off with no penalty etc. and for those who still were apprehensive, there came retribution in the way of harassment, a lowering of grades etc.  Soon enough all were ready to participate or at least stand aside when the various plans to get me out were launched.

Various techniques were implemented and they were usually woven into the fabric of each new assignment.  One popular technique was for the professor to break up the instructions for each new assignment and give some of the responsibilities for handing out certain crucial pieces of the instructions to certain students.  These students were always “on board” with things.

They would either make sure to be gone before I could get the instructions, or tell me to wait until they got back from lunch, dinner or another class.  They would end up not returning to the landscape architecture studios or something.  They would not return my emails or phone calls, etc.  At first some other students who felt bad would give me the pieces they received, then pressure was turned up on them and that ceased also.

This way, no matter how well I did I could never do well enough to receive good marks in the group.  An incomplete assignment could never be graded well, and no teacher could be punished for not giving a partially turned in assignment a good grade.  This was one method for trying to get me out from the group.

The goal was to get me, the person targeted for harassment, to do something which would facilitate my leaving.  They hoped I would leave the group from all the stress and games.  If not, then they hoped the stress would cause my grades to drop and I would just kind of flunk out, in what seemed like a natural scenario, from the group.  If those things failed, they hoped I would be removed from the group by doing something, due to the stress, that would lead to my getting kicked out of either the program, or the school entirely, and the people who wanted me out of the group would be able to extract me from the entire group that way.  I graduated anyways, and learned some things during the three years of psychological mind games played on me.

Of the things learned one was that a large number of the techniques employed in the strategies used in the various ploys entailed inducing a false sense of betrayal, or at least trying to.  The hope seemed to be that by causing the person they wanted gone from the group (the person targeted for harassment) to feel as though they had been crossed, they would feel spurned or dejected and want to leave the group.  Often times after this happened; the idea would be to not lend the person who was targeted for removal from the group a shoulder to lean on, as it were.  At least, no one from the group was supposed to.  This, it was hoped, brought about a feeling of loneliness from being further betrayed isolated and not supported within the group.

This way, all the negative emotions combined would, hopefully, be strong enough incentive to get the person to go away from the group.  Sure they could have tried many things and they did, but they had to always be careful and seemed to always be mindful of carefully setting things up so as not to get caught in their attempts to break the law to get what they wanted.

The perpetrators had a false sense of being righteous, and in their minds this righteousness transcended the laws.  It was as though their breaking the laws repeatedly for three years straight was in no way similar to my doing it once, thirteen years prior, when I was a minor.  The funny thing is that’s exactly the way terrorists seem to be.  They feel righteous, and that that righteousness gives them free license to break whatever laws they want because they know better – they are above the laws and beyond reproach.

In the strategy wherein pieces of information were handed out to students, the technique of inducing a sense of betrayal could be used here also.  This was aside from the over arching betrayal hoped to be felt by the targeted person that the entire group just went along and did nothing.  That is to say, the larger sense of betrayal, hopefully stemming from a sense that all others in the group all participated and, thus, turned on them in the end.  It was hoped they would feel they had been betrayed by all in the group and had no one left in the group to feel close to or count on.  Thus, they would want to leave.

It was also employed in a more focused sense.  For example, here someone who had been behaving as though they were a friend and someone the targeted person could rely on would say, “don’t worry about asking anyone else, just ask me and when I find out I’ll tell you” regarding the information on the assignment handed out to different people in the class.   That person would have previously told the target of the harassment they saw what was happening, and that they thought it was wrong.  This way, they would build trust.  When the target checked in with them, that person would then do something like say to the target they never got the information.

When the assignments were graded, and handed back the person would walk up with his grade in hand and ask the targeted person what they got, and when they told them, they would show the target their assignment with a full grade, and the part they said the night before they didn’t have would be right there in front of the target in plain sight.  At that point there would be some sort of display on the part of the person the target thought they could trust, letting them know the person they trusted did it on purpose and thereby rubbing it in the target’s face, for example.

This would be followed by some sort of ‘not too obvious’ display on the part of the professor and certain members of the class letting the target know it was all purposeful.  If the target questioned this all they had to say is ‘of course not.’  There was always plausible deniability built into the games.

As mentioned earlier this game involved trying to induce a strong sense of betrayal on the part of the person targeted for harassment as a means to achieving the desired end result.  The hope was this very strong, intense negative emotion, would eventually lead the person they had targeted for harassment to associate the strong negative emotions with the environment of the landscape architecture program, and thus compel them to leave the group, stop working and flunk or react negatively and be kicked out from the group.

Though I felt those things sometimes, it was never enough to get me away from the goal.  Those who wanted to force me from the group were unsuccessful.  They were successful as criminals, because they didn’t get molested by the law for their crimes, but they were unsuccessful in the end because they were unsuccessful at getting me to leave.  They were like terrorists who set the bomb, leave and never get caught, but he bomb ends up smoking and failing in some dud-like fashion.

If they had been successful, I wouldn’t be here writing this tonight.  I do so for anyone else out there who has been through group harassment or is going through it.  It is difficult, but survival is possible.  Just focus on your goal, and, like a Marine in boot camp, don’t allow yourself to quit or mess up too bad.  Just keep going.  Let the heat temper your steel and make you stronger.

The professor often told the group this happened in the professional world and the workplace.  He would hint it was normal and could even help them to do it in the future.  It is highly unlikely such phenomena are limited to groups of people in classrooms and school settings alone.

I left out how I survived and usually do when writing articles like this because every situation is unique, and thus, it may hurt you more than it helps.  Use these observations if you feel you can and find your path to survive and to succeed.  And, succeed is precisely what you do once the people targeting you for harassment have failed.  Good luck and persevere.

To read about my inspiration for this article go to