Protecting Students Against Bullying, Violence and Harassment Letter

May 10, 2011

Kimberly Tolhurst, Esq.
Acting General Counsel
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
624 Ninth Street, NW, 6th Floor
Washington, D.C.  20425

Dear Ms. Tolhurst:

On behalf of the 154,000 members and affiliates of the American Psychological Association (APA), I am writing in support of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights May 13 briefing, Federal Enforcement of Civil Rights Laws to Protect Students Against Bullying, Violence and Harassment. As the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting health, education, and human welfare. We are honored to have two APA psychologists, Dr. Greg Herek and Dr. Ilan Meyer providing testimony on this critical issue. Drs. Herek and Meyer are experts in the field of discrimination and bias against the LGBT population.

APA and our members are committed to applying psychological science to promoting a healthy and safe school climate. In 2004, APA issued a resolution calling for funding for research on bullying behavior and interventions and for implementation of effective, culturally sensitive bullying prevention programs. In 2010, APA provided recommendations, alongside a diverse group of stakeholders to the Federal Bullying Prevention Summit organized by the U.S. Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, Defense, Agriculture, and Interior. In March 2011, APA Chief Executive Officer Dr. Norman Anderson and psychologists Drs. Catherine Bradshaw, Dorothy Espelage, Susan Limber, Philip Rodkin, and Susan Swearer participated in the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention with President and Mrs. Obama. APA is strongly committed to continuing its longstanding role in providing research-based knowledge and effective solutions to the problem of bullying.

Research indicates that some children are targeted by bullies because they look or act different from most of their peers in some way. For example, youth with disabilities and youth who lesbian, gay, transgender, or perceived to be so ar at high risk of being bullied by their peers. Bullying behavior tends to occur repeatedly, and some children are bullied over a long period of time. Sudies reveal that students who bully others are often rewarded for their aggressive behavior (for example, by gains in their social power or material items stolen from their victims), while many students who witness bullying behavior either observe passively or even join actively in the bullying. Fortunately, a substantial body of research indicates that bullying can be significantly reduced through comprehensive, school-wide programs that change norms for behavior and promote a safe, positive school climate.

Characteristics of effective anti-bullying interventions include implementing a whole-school anti-bullying policy; parent and teacher training; cooperation between teachers and other professionals; classroom rules against bullying; and improved playground supervision. Research has documented that the length and intensity of an anti-bullying program are highly related to program success. Programs need to be intensive and long-lasting to reduce bullying.

In closing, we anticipate your follow-up report on bullying later this year. APA stands ready to provide assistance to the Commission on this very important topic. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Kerry Bolger (email; 202-336-6068) and Jenny Smulson (email; 202-336-5945). 

Sincerely,

Gwendolyn Puryear Keita, PhD
Executive Director
Public Interest Director