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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Political Controversies about Marginalized Groups Increase Bullying in Youths

Scientists uncovered new evidence that heated political discourse over proposed laws involving marginalized groups, such as debates about the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people, can contribute to an increase in bullying linked to students’ identity in schools. It is the largest study to date to examine the link. The findings are published in Pediatrics.

Researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, University of Texas at Austin, and Texas State reported that in the run-up to a statewide referendum to ban gay marriage in California, young people reported significantly more homophobic bullying. In fact, homophobic bullying peaked that school year and declined after the public debate about the initiative in question, Proposition 8, subsided.

The study provides empirical evidence that public debates about policies and laws involving marginalized groups can lead bullies to target young people identified as being part of those groups. “Our findings suggest that the public discourse surrounding these votes may increase risk for bias-based bullying,” pointed out Dr. Mark Hatzenbuehler, first author and associate professor of sociomedical sciences and sociology at Columbia.

The researchers looked at yearly survey data from nearly 5 million middle and high school students in more than 5,000 schools in California from 2001 to 2015 and whether those students experienced homophobic bullying.

Between the 2001-02 and 2008-09 school years, during which the Proposition 8 vote took place, rates of homophobic bullying increased, from 7.6 percent of students reporting they experienced bullying to 10.8 percent even as trends in other types of bullying declined. Homophobic bullying peaked that year but the rate steadily decreased every year after.

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