HRC Blog

CDC Study Shows Need for Bullying Prevention

The following post is from HRC Foundation Welcoming Schools Director, Kim Westheimer:

A study released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 27% of middle school students and 16% of high school students in Massachusetts have been bullied.  The study shows an association between bullying and poor grades, suicidal ideation, self-injury, and witnessing violence in the home.   This type of survey can inform school officials and policy makers about the general scope of the problem of bullying.  But there are a few missing pieces. 

In the past two years increased media attention has focused on bullying of students who subsequently committed suicide.  In many of these cases, students were bullied because of their real or perceived sexual orientation.  Two of these students were from Massachusetts: Carl Walker Hoover, who faced homophobic harassment and Phoebe Prince, a student who was sexually harassed.   Critical components of their experiences are not reflected in this Massachusetts survey because it does not address how bias can play a large role in bullying.

When population based surveys ask students whether bullying is related to their identity – whether it be sexual orientation, gender, race, or country of origin – policy makers and schools can gain valuable information about the interventions needed to educate students and affect attitudes that often fuel harassment.  For example, a survey used by the King County, Washington Department of Public Health asks students if they were harassed in relation to their sexual orientation, race, or gender.   This survey showed that half of high school students were harassed based on race/ethnicity, gender or perceived sexual orientation. This information can help policy makers and educators design laws, policies and curriculum that address inclusion and respect for all people:  policies that enumerate protected categories such as sexual orientation, race, and gender and curriculum that fosters respect for people from diverse races, cultures, and sexual orientations. 

While the CDC report did not address bullying based on bias, a Boston Globe news article about the report quoted an 18-year-old student who was not surprised to hear about high rates of bullying in MA schools.  Steve Marcelin, who moved to Massachusetts from Haiti five years ago, said he was bullied and taunted during eighth and ninth grades as he struggled to learn English.

“Most of the time I felt powerless,’’ Marcelin said. “I would try to, in school, keep a straight face, but at home I would cry.’’  We might ask where the adults were to stop this bullying.  Lack of adult support was also expressed by Logan Ferraro, a transgender student who was interviewed for an earlier Boston Globe article about the climate for LGBT students in school, Ferraro said that school administrators ignored his complaints of persistent bullying and that his car windows were shattered on senior prom night.

Bullying that is reported in middle and high school by students like Ferraro and Marcelin, doesn’t just start in 6th grade.  We must provide students with tools to avoid and stand up to bullying in early grades to forestall destructive behaviors in middle and high school.  We have enough data and information to know that bias-based bullying has severe consequences. Any school district or state that doesn’t directly address this problem could arguably be considered guilty of neglect.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Welcoming Schools Program is provides LGBT inclusive bullying prevention resources for elementary school educators, administrators and parents.  For more information go to www.welcomingschools.org.

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