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  • Emily Amador

Bullying based on race, ethnicity, and immigrant status can be especially brutal

What we know:

Studies have shown the following about responses to bias-based bullying:

  • Studies have shown that non-immigrant origin students would be less likely to intervene in an incident of bullying if the victim is an immigrant-origin peer.

  • Studies have shown that immigrant youth judged bullying as less acceptable and retaliation as more acceptable than their non-immigrant origin peers when an in-group (immigrant-origin victim) seeks retaliation in bias-based bullying.

  • Immigrant-origin students are self-reliant, and they are more likely to be viewed as an aggressor if they report bullying even if they are a victim.

  • Bullying largely stems from bias and prejudice because of a greater likelihood for an in-group member (non-immigrant origin student) to bully an outgroup member (immigrant-origin peer) with sympathy from bystanders. ​​Racial-based bullying was positively associated with negative prejudices towards immigrants and perceived popularity and negatively associated with evaluating immigration as advantageous, openness to contact with others, and perceiving cultural diversity as accepted at school.

  • Immigrant-origin youth report more bullying than non-immigrant-origin youth. Older ages regardless of immigration status were shown to be less prevalent in victimization. Across 26 receiving countries, immigration effects on victimization did not vary, this shows consistency.


The survey was compiled by several scenarios– This is just an example of one scenario assessed by students.

The study was conducted through a survey. The survey is composed of a demographics section, ethnicity, identity, and belonging scale, and school bullying climate scale which assessed the prevalence of teasing and bullying, aggressive attitudes, and a willingness to seek help. These components were crucial in understanding the identities and backgrounds of each participant.

Scenario by the response:

When they put themselves in the shoes of the victim, they as a victim choose avoidance in the Arab scenario whereas in the other scenarios, specifically the Latinx scenario they chose to be assertive, etc.

This is what they expect from the victim. They think it’s more likely and fitting for the Arab student to avoid the situation and the Latinx student to be assertive.

Previous studies of prevalence in the UAE have shown that Arab students are less likely to report bullying. There is no direct translation of bullying in the Arabic language. The word used to refer to bullying is ‘Tanamor’ and it translates to aggressiveness towards someone weak, so generally Arab students in the UAE are “embarrassed” to report cases of bullying. The stigma of bullying may make this community seem more vulnerable, and thus targeted.

The results are merely the tip of the iceberg. To understand the results we have to analyze and understand how different identifiers such as their race, immigrant status, school climate, etc. affect their judgments and their responses.

Research question: How do school climate and responses to bullying impact and influence youths' interpretation of bullying/exclusion of immigrant-status students? Do immigrant status and ethnicity affect bullying? (Bias-based exclusion bullying)

Overall, there is a trend of participant students viewing bias-based bullying as more acceptable for Arab students than Black and Latinx students. So there is Preferential treatment for non-Arab victims

The combination of findings is clearest to us when we contextualize them collectively and create a story line.

In general, participants in the study group were more likely to use the positive actors, be assertive and confront the bully, rather than the passive version. So, they are more likely to use positive and positive active responses and behaviors. But, this pattern varied when we combined the characteristics of the participant, the scenario, and the school climate.

We found that when the first and second-generation immigrant youth did not default to empathy in response to bullying, they justified it with a stereotypical response. Multiple reasons can account for this.

Firstly, immigrant students, based on previous research, are more likely to experience bullying. Bullies target immigrants, not for social elevation but rather based on stereotypes and racial motivations. Being that immigrants are more likely to face racial discrimination and bullying in and outside of the classroom, through everyday experiences, the media, etc., it can be said that they are employing empathy because they are more likely to have been bullied. If they do not choose empathy, a stereotypical response can be explained by their efforts of assimilation. U.S. media and politics have perpetuated stereotypes. And they, as victims, were likely targeted because of stereotypes regarding themselves. Their bullying is more likely to have been justified by stereotypes. Essentially, they are reflecting the American motivation of ‘mirroring’ and ‘othering,’ which is used to describe members of an ingroup society imitating the language, dress, etc. of their outgroup. This is used to keep authority over outgroup members because it takes them away from their respective identities. They do not have an identity that is fully theirs. The outgroup however does not want the groups that they dominate to completely assimilate because that would give those groups power, they want the subject to fail in their performance of assimilation.

When bullying is prevalent in a school:

Immigrant participants are more likely to comfort the victim, likely drawing from their own experiences, likely having been victimized themselves, to go out and support the Arab students, who are not being seen and victimized more.

For the ‘strongly agree’ of bullying prevalence, and strong willingness to help, indicated in the study survey: the minority participants were likely to engage in the negative and less likely to use the positive than their white counterparts. For the Arab victim, the immigrant participants were more likely to engage in positive bystander responses than passive but the non-immigrant participants showed no difference in their rates. When there is a strong willingness to help immigrants are more likely to use positive bystander responses.

In schools where bullying is not prevalent, for the scenario with the Arab student, the non-immigrant background students were more likely to use the passive response, which looks like remaining neutral and keeping out of the bullying process than the immigrant participants were. In the scenario with the black victim, they were more likely to use the passive response: For Black students for psychological reasons, and the Arab student for more so social convention.

To reduce bullying, specifically towards immigrant students, it is important to hone in on motivations and set common ground in the classroom. This can be done by using inclusive language and practices such as collaborative work. In addition, positive representations of immigrants or minoritized groups in multimedia help inclusivity and awareness of diversity.

We knew that, for minority students, it is more challenging to report bullying because they are stereotypically viewed as the aggressors in altercations even if they are the victims. This has continued to be a problem within the school system which has assigned more severe consequences for minoritized communities.

Teachers are not trained to mediate conflicts however they must be. By having teachers and faculty trained to handle high-pressure situations like behavioral problems and loosening stringent punishments as mentioned earlier. Furthermore, afterschool programs such as ASES provide after-school care for children where they have time to complete their work, be provided a meal, and get involved in extracurriculars. This is something that needs to be more widespread and funded. Students carry trauma into the classroom. Pass and Montero found that teachers can capture the attention of students by including students' cultural knowledge through for example classroom discussion, writing activities, multimedia presentations, etc. Refugees often face language barriers and thus teachers may need to modify texts for their students.

For some time, this has been the justification for underfunded schools with higher populations of minoritized students. Whether it be music, art, STEM, or extracurricular funding has been denied or insufficient because of a false complex of inferiority that has been created to diminish the character of minority groups. The transition to remote learning further complicated the matter of education, especially in South LA, particularly because many students did not have access to the proper resources to access their schoolwork, including WiFi and devices. Breaking the gap between poverty within immigrant communities, specifically for educational resources is vital. It is more than important for schools especially in impoverished communities to have a structure, however, ensure that their policies are not too stringent. Strict consequences such as expulsion and suspension may be necessary to some degree however, should not be used to punish students as much as they are. These punishments keep students out of school and can even reduce funding.

With the results we have gathered, we are reminded that one-size shoes do not fit all. One solution or practice of intervention to help support immigrants and other minority groups will not work for everyone. This is because all communities are different. Immigrant communities are all very different, and with the generalization of ‘immigrant’ for all people who come to live permanently in a foreign country, you are only getting a very small margin of what it means to be an immigrant. A limitation of this study was our inability to distinguish between first-generation and second-generation due to a significant imbalance of participants who identified as first and second-generation. In future research, it would be valuable to distinguish between these two groups. A solution for immigrants may not work for both first and second-generation students because their experiences are different.

The immigrant experience is that of mixed identity. Homi Bhaba best explains this phenomenon as “mimicry.” This is when one culture dominates another, members of the dominant culture will encourage mimicry amongst those that they dominate. This is used to keep authority over those they dominate because it takes them away from their respective identity.

*This is a summary I compiled of research conducted with Dr. Alaina Brenick, Kellsie Lewis, Sydney Klein, and Rui Wu*


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