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Identity-Based Bullying & Fostering Safer School Climates

November 22 – 26 is Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week (BAPW) in Ontario, dedicated to helping promote safe schools and positive learning environments. This year our Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week theme is inclusion, focused on sharing resources and information on identity-based bullying to help educators learn more about fostering safer school climates.

Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intended to harm another person in a relationship where there is a power imbalance. A power imbalance within a peer relationship can occur because of many factors. Identity-based bullying targets aspects of a person’s identity, and may include bias about appearance, race, culture, weight, gender and gender expression, language, religion, socioeconomic status, disability, and sexual orientation, among others.

Identity-based bullying is a major problem for Canadian children and youth. According to new survey data from the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with the University of British Columbia, 58% of Canadian youth say they have seen kids insulted, bullied, or excluded based on their race or ethnicity at school.

In addition to the harm caused during the initial incident, the damaging effects of bullying have been shown to negatively affect social relationships, well-being, and overall health in the short and long term. And, studies show that youth who experience identity-based bullying based on multiple identities – such as race and gender expression – report more negative outcomes of bullying and higher levels of school avoidance and fear than those students who report only one type of identity-based bullying and those who experience non-identity-based bullying [Mulvey et al 2018].

To help promote healthy development for youth and reduce the damaging effects of bullying, we need to create classrooms and school environments that are accepting and inclusive. Here, we’ve listed some approaches and evidence-based resources – podcasts, webinars, tip sheets, and websites – to help educators better understand and address identity-based bullying.

Addressing Identity-Based Bullying in your School

Create a school culture that reflects the importance of feeling safe and being part of an inclusive and supportive community
Bullying prevention is not just about eliminating bullying—it is also about promoting the development of healthy relationships to help ensure that all children and youth have healthy, safe, respectful, and caring relationships in their lives.

A whole school approach is the most effective approach to preventing bullying and promoting healthy relationships. When everyone works together for a safe, inclusive, and accepting school, children and youth receive consistent messages and responses about bullying and positive relationships at school, at home, in sports, in recreation centres, and in the neighbourhood. Involving the community helps to ensure that youth get consistent messages everywhere they live, learn, play, and work.

Read more about how to implement a school plan in our Bullying Prevention and Intervention in the School Environment: Factsheets and Tools document. And, use the Bullying Prevention Policies and Procedures Checklist tool to make sure you have an evidence-based and comprehensive plan.

Help Students Learn and Feel Empowered to be Allies
Help students learn and feel empowered to be allies: Because so much bullying behavior takes place when adults are not around (at recess, in the hallway, on the back of the bus, online, etc.) and many students don’t report bullying to adults, we need to help students help each other. The best way to do this is to motivate students to change from being bystanders to acting as allies.

There are many ways to act as an ally, including being supportive of and comforting the youth being victimized, telling aggressors to stop, not participating, seeking help, and being intentional about getting to know others instead of judging them. Educators can teach students these skills and inspire them to want to be allies by role modelling and positively reinforcing behaviour in the classroom, teaching social-emotional learning, and ensuring that all youth are included and accepted. (With information from anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk)

Learn and Teach About Identity and Bias
An important way to decrease bullying, and specifically identity-based bullying, is to engage students in anti-bias education work, which teaches students about the various layers of identity, develops their capacity to understand bias, and builds skills to challenge bias in themselves and others. Further, creating a culturally responsive classroom environment can help students both learn about differences and feel affirmed and accepted in their identity. (With information from anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk)

News Articles to Learn More about Identity-Based Bullying in Schools

Building Healthy Relationships in Schools

The Healthy Relationships Series for Educators brings together four of Canada’s leading researchers in bullying and violence prevention to share their knowledge on these important topics. Aiming to build knowledge capacity of educators working with youth, these seminars cover dating violence, cyberbullying, and promoting healthy relationships in the classroom. Each talk is accompanied by a 2-page downloadable tipsheet.

Bullying and COVID-19

In his webinar Promoting Healthy Relationships and Preventing Racial Bullying, Samuel Kim, Queen’s University PhD candidate, examines racial bullying during the COVID-19 pandemic and how we can provide youth with evidence-based strategies to stand up to bullying. His strategies for educators, parents, and youth are also summarized at the link.

Resources on Equity Literacy

Equity literacy is a commitment to deepening individual and institutional understandings of how equity and inequity operate in organizations and societies, preparing us to recognize even the subtlest forms of bias, inequity, and oppression These resources were created by PREVNet for the Community of Practice Addressing Youth Dating Violence, but the concepts and strategies discussed can also be applied to promoting healthy relationships and preventing bullying and violence in schools.

Webinar: Equity-based Violence Prevention: Potential Considerations for Educators Working with Diverse Groups of Youth
Dr. Deinera Exner-Cortens, Assistant Professor and Tier II Canada Research Chair (Childhood Health Promotion) at the University of Calgary, discusses identity-based victimization and equity-based solutions. She provides suggestions for applying equity literacy in the classroom. This webinar comes with a supplementary tip sheet.

Podcast: Equity Literacy 
Dr. Deinera Exner-Cortens speaks to Lianne Lee, Director of Healthy Youth Relationship Strategy at SHIFT, about equity literacy and why it matters for teen dating violence prevention and creating violence-free schools.

Webinar: Inclusive Prevention Practice – Incorporating Equity Literacy into Adolescent Dating Violence Prevention
Dr. Deinera Exner-Cortens discusses the concept of equity literacy and how it can be incorporated into adolescent dating violence prevention and building healthy relationships. This webinar comes with the Equity Literacy Principles handout, Equity Literacy Competencies handout, and supplementary tip sheet.

Recommended Websites

EdChange
Education for Liberation Network
Egale
Equity Literacy Institute
Facing History and Ourselves
GLSEN
Learning for Justice 
SoJust
Teachers for Social Justice
Teaching for Change
Wisdom2Action
Youth Dating Violence (PREVNet)

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