Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Bullying and Discrimination in Schools: Exploring Variations across Student Subgroups

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Bullying and Discrimination in Schools: Exploring Variations across Student Subgroups

Article excerpt

Bullying and discrimination are significant and long-standing social issues facing students, educators, and adults; yet, the gap between research findings and real, tangible solutions seems to be growing. Researchers have studied these forms of youth interpersonal violence for decades (Hymel & Swearer, 2015), and why bullying and discrimination happen is no longer a mystery. However, translating research knowledge to real solutions is proving to be more mysterious than researchers could have predicted. The research presented in this special issue of School Psychology Review includes four theoretically and empirically derived, competently conducted and analyzed studies, the results of which highlight four important factors that can inform translational research by expanding our understanding of the truly complex set of mechanisms and processes underlying youth interpersonal violence in our schools. Results of these studies underscore how peers matter, individual differences matter (race, sexual orientation, disability), educational context matters, and measurement matters. We explore each in turn here.

Peers Matter

Bullying has long been recognized as a peer-group phenomenon (Craig & Pepler, 1997; Craig, Pepler, & Atlas, 2000; Olweus, 1993; Pepler, Craig, & O'Connell, 2010), with more than two decades of research demonstrating that the social structure of peer groups greatly influences these behaviors (Faris & Felmlee, 2011). Despite such recognition, the implications of peer processes for educational practice and prevention/intervention efforts remain largely unexplored (e.g., see Farmer, McAuliffe Lines, & Hamm; 2011; Hymel, McClure, Miller, Shumka, & Trach, 2015). Two of the studies in this special issue focused directly on peer influences in interpersonal violence.

Nickerson, Aloe, and Werth, in their article entitled, "The relation of empathy and defending in bullying: A meta-analytic investigation" confirm through meta-analysis what researchers and practitioners have assumed--that "upstanders" or witnesses who are willing to defend and support peers who are victimized report greater empathy. Against this backdrop, future research can focus on understanding the complexities of the relationship between empathy and the willingness of youth to stand up and defend others in bullying situations, as well as other factors that may further contribute to the likelihood of defending behavior. For example, research by Vaillan-court, Hymel, and McDougall (2003) emphasizes the fact that bullying is about power and powerlessness. How would defending behavior vary if the perpetrator is a friend? What if a group of students is bullying? What if the perpetrator is popular? A bystander in these situations might have high empathy but, actually intervening and defending the victim may also be influenced by the relationships that exist and the roles that peers play. Defending might actually be related more to bravery and courage than to empathy in such situations. As illustrated in research by Rocke Henderson and Hymel (2011), student reports of defender behavior are also predicted by reported feelings of anger, what Vigtalione and Barnett (2003) referred to as empathic anger in their research with adults.

Poteat, Rivers, and Vecho, in their article, "The role of peers in predicting students' homophobic behavior: Effects of peer aggression, prejudice, and sexual orientation identity importance" shift our focus to the larger peer group. Applying a social-ecological lens and considering the influence of the peer group, based on Tajfel and Turner's (1986) social identity theory, Poteat and colleagues explore the unique and interactive effects of individual and peer group factors (level of aggressiveness, prejudice) on homophobic behavior. They found that high school students were more likely to engage in homophobic aggression when they were in peer groups that were aggressive and homophobic. …

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