Report: Bullying Stunts Academic Performance of Kids of Color

Now, advocates and parents search for answers.

By Bryan Gerhart Aug 25, 2011

Along with immeasurable psychological trauma, bullying victims, particularly high-achieving students of color, also suffer academically, according to a new study presented by the American Sociological Association.

The study, conducted by sociologists at Virginia Tech and Ohio State University, found that bullied students show a marked decrease in their Grade Point Average’s over time. While the drop is noticeable, if not dramatic, for students across the board, high-achieving black and Latino students show a far more significant decline in their academic performance. This study expands on the results of a separate, but similar, report released earlier this month which found that schools where bullying was more prevalent produced lower standardized test scores.

The basis for the new study came from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, which asked 9,590 10th graders in 580 schools across the United States whether or not they had been bullied. The 9th and 12th grade GPAs of the students were compared, and it became clear that students who reported bullying during their sophomore year of high school showed a decline in academic performance by the end of their senior year. While victims of bullying averaged a .049 point decrease in their 12th grade GPA, high-achieving black students showed a .3 point drop and Latinos a .5 point fall. To compare, there was only a .03 drop among bullied white students who tended to earn higher marks in school. When looking at race without the distinction of high-achievers, the study found no significant difference among declines in academic performance.

Lisa Williams, the lead author of the study, cited her own earlier paper to offer a possible explanation for why blacks and Latinos with better school records tended to suffer more at the hands of bullies. She suggests that their bullying could be tied to their exemplification of broken stereotypes. Because "stereotypes about African American and Latino American youth suggest that they have poor academic performance," the study says, they "face social penalties such as bullying for breaking stereotypes." It adds that these high-achievers are more likely to be bullied than their white counterparts.

The findings don’t surprise Nicholas Carlisle, Executive Director of No Bully, a non-profit dedicated to bringing school solutions to bullying. "The more someone is bullied," he said, "The more they are marginalized, the more they feel excluded, and the less they want to participate in school. The less they participate in the school the less they learn, and then the academic results go down." This dangerous causality illustrates the importance of inclusion, and how bullying prevents students who feel excluded from reaching their full potential.

"Kids are bullied because of differences," Carlisle emphasized. "And one of the significant differences kids are bullied around is race." 

However, it is not always the same race that faces bullying. Rather, the group that is in the minority at a particular school is most at risk. This could mean black students at a mainly white school or the polar opposite.

"The effect of last years news around bullying was that people began saying ‘Well bullying is a gay issue,’" said Carlisle, referencing mainstream media coverage of a startling number of suicides related to the harassment of LGBT teenagers. "This survey once again shows that bullying isn’t just a gay issue. Students get bullied for all sorts of differences, and we can’t forget the students who are being bullied because of their race."