Living Columns & Blogs

Bias-based bullying is on the rise, studies say

Bullying, defined as an aggressive act that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power and most often occurs repeatedly and over time, has been commonplace in schools across the world for some time. However, the term “bullying” has only been a focus of research for the past 40 years.

Dan Olweus, a professor of psychology in Norway, pioneered and published research on this topic in his seminal book, “Bullies and their Whipping Boys” published in 1978. Over the past 40 years, bullying has become the focus of media and has morphed into various forms including cyberbullying and most recently bias-based bullying.

Bias-based bullying is defined as bullying based on an individual’s race, gender or gender identify, ethnicity, sexual orientation, immigration status, socioeconomic status, disability, weight or other cultural characteristics. Recent studies have indicated that this form of bullying is on the rise since 2016. A recent survey of youth age 13-18, conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, found that more than 70 percent of participants reported witnessing bullying, hate messages and harassment during the 2016 election and 79 percent of youth indicated that they felt there had been an increase in these behaviors over the past year.

These findings reflected the perceptions of youth of color, transgender youth and youth who speak English as a second language. This survey highlights recent perspectives, however several additional studies highlight the perspectives of students from diverse populations including students with disabilities — including physical, learning and psychological disabilities — and students who come from various religious backgrounds, who report being targeted significantly more than their peers.

Although these are research studies conducted outside of State College, these findings and perspectives can easily reflect some of the perspectives of youth in our community. State College Area School District has been taking strides to address these issues through the development and implementation of the Inclusive Excellence Policy, professional development for administrators, faculty, staff and students, and educational offerings for parents and families such as Charleon Jeffries’s recent Straight Talk.

As we continue to work together to uncover and address our biases, it is increasingly important to learn how to identify and address this pervasive form of bullying and harassment. From 7-8:30 p.m. April 17, a Straight Talk session, "Let's Talk about Bias-Based Bullying: Turning Bystanders into Upstanders" will be held at Mount Nittany Middle School, 656 Brandywine Drive, State College. For more information, visit

Seria Chatters is an assistant professor in the college of education at Penn State.