Bullying Takes Toll on Minority Student Achievement

Victims of bullying can face a lifetime of psychological scars, but they also suffer academically, particularly Black and Latino students, according to new research.

Educators know that bullied students are more likely to miss school, fall behind, and eventually drop out, but the new study, The Impact of School Bullying on Racial/Ethnic Achievement, suggests that the academic performance of certain racial groups is more vulnerable than others.

“Although academic achievement is largely influenced by family background and school characteristics, our study suggests that the experience of being bullied also influences students’ grades,” says Lisa M. Williams, a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University, and lead author of the study. “We find that bullying has implications for achievement regardless of racial and ethnic background, but seems to be especially detrimental for subsets of certain racial and ethnic groups.”

According to the study, which was coauthored by Anthony A. Peguero, assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Tech, students who were bullied in the 10th grade experienced a .049 points decrease in 12th grade GPA.

“This effect, though small, is highly significant and suggests that bullying negatively affects GPA even after factoring in previous grades, family background, and school characteristics often associated with achievement, which are all variables the study controls for,” Williams says.

The most striking aspect of the study, the researchers found, is the considerable negative effect bullying has on the GPAs of high achieving Black and Latino students. Williams and Peguero found that Black students—who had 3.5 GPAs in 9th grade and were bullied in 10th grade—experienced a .3 points decrease in their 12th grade GPAs.

Latino students with 3.5 GPAs in 9th grade, who were bullied in 10th grade, had 12th grade GPAs that were .5 points lower. By way of comparison, White students—who had 3.5 GPAs in 9th grade and were bullied in 10th grade—saw their GPAs decrease by only .03 points in 12th grade.

Most bully victims are targeted for their differences, and high achieving minority students might be targeted for not conforming to social stereotypes, the researchers say. In a previous study, Racial and Ethnic Stereotypes and Bullying Victimization, they found that racial and ethnic minority students experience verbal harassment, derogatory treatment, and social isolation when they don’t adhere to racial and ethnic stereotypes.

“Stereotypes about Black and Latino youth suggest that they perform poorly in school,” Williams says. “High achieving Blacks and Latinos who do not conform to these stereotypes may be especially vulnerable to the effect bullying has on grades.”

What can educators do?

“School personnel can play a vital role in protecting students from bullying and harassment, and should pay special attention to racial and ethnic minority youth who break stereotypes as revealed in these findings,” says Virginia Tech’s Peguero. “The justification for ‘backlash’ by bullying high achieving racial and ethnic minority students is entrenched in young people’s defense of stereotypes. School faculty and staff should implement programs that disrupt these long-held racial and ethnic stereotypes.”

For more on what educators can do to prevent bullying, visit NEA’s Bully Free Schools campaign.