NSF-Funded Research on Bullying gets Positive Reaction from Congress

By Heather O’Beirne Kelly, PhD

June 2001

On June 13th, APA continued its long history of participation in the annual research exhibit on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF). This year APA member Sandra Graham, Ph.D. (Fellow, Division 15; Member, Divisions 8, 9, and 45) presented her research on bullies and the bullied, highlighting her new longitudinal study of peer victimization during the middle school years. With funding support from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Developmental and Learning Sciences program (formerly known as Child Learning and Development), Dr. Graham is examining the nature of bullying and looking to identify ways to intervene and prevent potentially long-term negative consequences of bullying for youth and our communities. Her study will recruit 2,000 6th grade students as they enter one of 15 different middle schools in Los Angeles, and will gather data on peer harassment (victimization and perpetration), psychological adjustment, peer perceptions, and academic achievement at six time points over three years.

Before the evening exhibit and reception in the Rayburn House Office Building, APA’s science public policy office arranged a constituent visit for Dr. Graham with staff in Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office to build support for increases in NSF’s Fiscal Year 2002 budget and describe how proposed legislation could limit important school-based research. This kind of “Hill visit” is both an entrée to Capitol Hill offices for APA policy staff, since legislators typically are very responsive to requests from constituents, and an opportunity for academic researchers to develop an ongoing relationship with their policymakers in Washington. Dr. Graham’s meeting with Sen. Feinstein’s staff happened to coincide with a visit to the office from another prestigious Californian – Alan Alda!

During the CNSF reception, Dr. Graham’s exhibit drew attention from a number of Congressmen, and she had the opportunity to discuss her work with House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Reps. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Gil Gutknecht (R-MN), Dale Kildee (D-MI), and Thomas Sawyer (D-OH). Chairman Boehlert’s committee (on which Rep. Ehlers, a physicist, also sits) has oversight over NSF’s research activities, and Rep. Frelinghuysen’s House Appropriations Subcommittee sets the annual funding level for NSF, so they were particularly interested in Dr. Graham’s work. Other members of Congress and their staff were struck by the timeliness of Dr. Graham’s research and were eager to receive future updates on her study’s findings.