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Research examines bullying, from the adolescent viewpoint

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How do adolescents perceive bullying, especially related to gender and sexuality?

Stacey Horn, associate professor of educational psychology, said a growing body of research shows the prevalence of sexuality-related bullying, but few studies have investigated how adolescents view such behavior, and how age, culture, social groups and school context influence their views.

Horn received a four-year, $730,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to study bullying among this age group, then help develop a public education campaign for students and teachers.

“Do young people view all forms of sexuality-based exclusion or bullying as harassment? Or do they see some of them as legitimate ways to regulate their peers’ social behavior?” Horn said.

“Do school norms, rules and policies affect their reasoning?”

Horn said harassment may include “calling someone a fag, slut or dyke to harm their social status, spreading a rumor about their sexual behavior, or even physical assault.”

Her research will begin with a survey to assess the frequency of various types of bullying in Chicago-area public schools.

The researchers will then conduct one-on-one interviews of seventh-, ninth-, and 11th-graders that will encourage them to recall incidents of sexuality-related interactions, including such details as the relationship of perpetrator and victim, their mental states, peer status, presence of bystanders, outcome of the event, and to what extent the interview subject considered it harassment.

In a second round of interviews, researchers will present vignettes based on incidents discussed in previous interviews, record the students’ reactions, and prepare case studies to determine how those reactions are influenced by school context, particularly their schools’ compliance with Illinois’ recent anti-bullying law.

Horn said the Ford Foundation grant is unique in its focus on public policy. Recipients must not only conduct research, but also produce public education campaigns based on research results and train graduate students as the next generation of researchers in sexuality and sexual rights.

Horn’s research team will develop its public education campaign in partnership with the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance to reach middle- and high-school students and school personnel.

“We’ll be heavily involved in shaping how the anti-bullying law is implemented across the state,” Horn said.

“We’re also working with a coalition of teacher education faculty from across the state to ensure that all teacher education students get adequate training in sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Horn’s research begins this month. Preliminary results from the research will be announced over the next two to three years.


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