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Want to Boost Minority Achievement? End School Bullying

by Liz Dwyer

August 26, 2011

It's no secret that victims of school bullying have a tough time keeping up their grades. After all, thanks to all that taunting and name-calling, almost 160,000 children stay home from school every day because they're afraid to show up. Now, a study released Tuesday concludes that bullying has an even greater negative impact on the GPAs of black and Latino students than those of their white peers.

Lisa Williams, a doctoral student in sociology at The Ohio State University, and Anthony Peguero, a sociology professor at Virginia Tech, used national bullying data as well as survey results from 9,590 students attending 580 schools nationwide for their study, which they presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. They found that black high school freshmen earning 3.5 grade point averages saw their grades drop to a 3.2 average by senior year as a result of bullying.

The effect of bullying was even worse for Latino students. Freshman with 3.5 GPAs who were bullied as sophomores ended high school with a 3.0 average. In comparison, high-achieving white freshman who experienced bullying only saw their GPAs decrease from 3.5 to 3.47.

Why does bullying effect high achieving black and Latino students so disproportionately? "Stereotypes about black and Latino youth suggest that they perform poorly in school," Williams says. When students from those backgrounds "do not conform to these stereotypes," they end up being "especially vulnerable to the effect bullying has on grades."

In other words, high-achieving black and Latino students often are bullied by their fellow students of color for being a "sell-out" or trying to "act white." Meanwhile, racism from white students can make school doubly unwelcoming. It makes sense that minority students might see earning slightly less-stellar grades as a way to ease the pressure. If they seem less smart, they might not draw the ire of their peers.

These findings demonstrate yet another reason that schools need to take bullying more seriously and invest resources into protecting students. If that happens, Williams says, black and Latino students might finally feel encouraged to do well in school.

photo via (cc) Flickr user studiostoer

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Want to Boost Minority Achievement? End School Bullying