Journal of Interpersonal Violence

Shelley, Walter W., Justin T. Pickett*, Christina Mancini, Robyn Diehl McDougle, Grant Rissler, and Hayley Cleary

Abstract

Bullying and school crime are important social problems that are receiving increased attention by scholars and policy makers. However, several critical questions remain unaddressed. First, does the public perceive bullying as a serious problem and judge schools—primary, secondary, and postsecondary—as safe or unsafe? Second, does the public use a “bullying lens” to judge school safety—that is, do citizens understand bullying as a serious threat to students’ well-being? Third, are there racial differences in these perceptions? Prior research identifies racial differences in the prevalence of bullying, as well as in students’ views of school safety and citizens’ fear of crime. Similar racial gaps may characterize public perceptions of bullying and school safety. This study begins to illuminate answers to these questions by analyzing data from a representative sample of Virginians. Multivariate regression analyses produce several notable findings. First, we find that members of the public believe bullying in schools is an increasingly serious problem, and their perceptions of bullying influence their judgments of whether schools and colleges/universities are safe. Second, Black members of the public are more likely than persons from other racial and ethnic backgrounds to perceive that bullying is increasing and is a serious problem in schools, and, in turn, to judge that schools and universities are less safe. Our results indicate that members of the public see bullying as a principal threat to student safety. They suggest there is a strong reservoir of public support for antibullying initiatives and, more broadly, efforts to increase student safety.

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* Denotes CSDA Associates, Affiliates, and Staff