Vague bullying prevention efforts do more harm than good

December 6, 2018

By relying on abstract examples and simplistic advice like “be kind,” bullying prevention campaigns frequently exclude the most common and severe forms of bullying. What most bullying prevention efforts fail to mention is that the most severe and pervasive cases of bullying are actually instances of identity-based harassment and violence.

Bullying prevention campaigns and policies have exploded in popularity over the past few years. In part, this is due to the hard work of activists trying to make schools safer for everyone. But the vague language of bullying prevention has also been stretched so thin that it can be used to justify almost anything, from forcing girls to wear skirts and to never say no to boys to pushing discriminatory private school vouchers.

By relying on abstract examples and simplistic advice like “be kind,” bullying prevention campaigns also frequently exclude the most common and severe forms of bullying. What most bullying prevention efforts fail to mention is that the most severe and pervasive cases of bullying are actually instances of identity-based harassment and violence. That is, victims are targeted based on protected identity categories like race, gender, sexuality, religion and disability and attacked in ways that further marginalize their identities.

Even when students who don’t fit these identities are bullied, they are almost always targeted for being perceived as too close to these identities (a boy perceived as too feminine, for example). Moreover, they are attacked with language and behaviors that create discriminatory environments for students with marginalized identities.