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Study: Bullying over race or sexual orientation is extra damaging

Professors at the University of Delaware are tackling the issue of bullying based on stigma, which is when a person is targeted based solely on characteristics such as race or sexual orientation.

The experts are looking into methods to prevent this type of bullying and are also investigating the directions needed for future interventions.

Study lead author Valerie Earnshaw is a professor of Human Development and Family Sciences.

“I became interested in this because we’re realizing that being bullied due to a stigmatized characteristic or identity is really harmful,” said Earnshaw. “I started wondering what people are doing about it, and whether they are doing the right things about it.”

The researchers found that, even though there has been an increase in stigma-based bullying interventions, these interventions are not always effective.

“Stigma-based bullying has always been around, but I think that there have been some recent societal shifts that have led people to pay more attention to it,” said Earnshaw.

Earnshaw said that strategies which directly address stigma, such as reducing stereotypes and prejudice, may be necessary to prevent stigma-based bullying. She pointed out that, even though an association between gun violence and stigma-based bullying in schools has not been established, there are some signs of a strong link.

Earnshaw said that the shooter at a school in Parkland, Florida, was found to have connections with a white supremacy group. Many other perpetrators of gun violence were found to have engaged in gender-based violence or harassment.

“Perhaps intervening early on these stigma-related factors could have downstream effects on preventing gun violence,” said Earnshaw.

The professor explained that stigma-based bullying interventions should be thoroughly examined to see how and why these strategies work.

“Overall, stigma-based bullying is a complex phenomenon that takes an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to address,” said Earnshaw. “Students, teachers, parents, healthcare providers, coaches, religious leaders, and policymakers all have a role to play in ending it and improving the wellbeing of youth who are affected by it.”

The study is published in the journal Developmental Review.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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