Bullying Can Harm Entire School Climate

In a new study, researchers analyzed the impact of several different types of bullying on the overall school climate in middle and high schools. Their findings, published in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, show that bullying, cyberbullying and harassment are significantly associated with decreases in perceptions of school safety, connection and equity for everyone.

“For each form of victimization, school climate measures go down precipitously, so if we only center the conversation about kids who are being bullied that limits it to ‘that’s not my kid,'” said study author Bernice Garnett, S.c.D., associate professor in the College of Education and Social Services at the University of Vermont.

“But if we change the conversation to bullying can actually damage the entire school climate, then that motivates and galvanizes the overall will of the school community to do something about it.”

According to the study, 43.1 percent of the students polled had experienced at least one form of victimization during the 2015-2016 school year. Just over 32 percent reported being bullied, 21 percent were victims of cyberbullying, and 16.4 percent experienced harassment — defined as “experiencing negative actions from one or more persons because of his or her skin, religion, where they are from (what country), sex, sexual identity, or disability.”

The findings highlight the need for comprehensive policies that address all forms of victimization to help promote safe and equitable school environments, which are tied to educational outcomes.

Previous research has shown that students from vulnerable populations are most frequently victimized. The new study finds that students experiencing polyvictimization (more than one type of bullying) were most likely to identify as female and transgender.

Students who identified as “multiracial” or “other” also experienced higher levels of polyvictimization than their peers. In addition, students experiencing polyvictimization were more likely to report doing “worse” academically.

A recent study from Columbia University, for example, showed that students living in states where schools enumerate homophobic bullying, experience less victimization. Data differs regionally, however, making it difficult to protect students in places where “people are using identities to target for power,” Garnett said.

“Policies can actually shape the experiences of students in schools,” she said. “This study is trying to show that we need to be thinking about the structural forces that make bullying prevalent among certain groups of kids, which is not a coincidence.”

“The reason why queer youth, English Language Learners, kids with disabilities and overweight kids are targeted is because those are socially acceptable identities to target depending on where you live.”

Source: University of Vermont