Building bystander bravery

In our multicultural society research tells us that racism and racial bullying are still pressing issues in the lives of many children and young people, especially at school. These experiences can have dramatic effects on the health and wellbeing of students and their school communities.

A new collaborative study, Speak Out Against Racism (SOAR), is looking at the experiences of, attitudes towards, and responses to racism and racial bullying of students and teachers. Led by Dr Naomi Priest of the Australian National University and funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant in partnership with the Victorian and NSW state governments; the study will also investigate the impact of these experiences on wellbeing and education outcomes and the potential to reduce instances of racism and promote diversity.

'Previous research estimates as many as one in five students experience racial bullying on a daily basis at school in Victoria,' said Dr Priest.

'As the foundations for our attitudes to diversity are formed in our school years, this is a key time for supporting students to have positive attitudes and skills to address racism and racial bullying.'

A key aspect of SOAR will be to look at ways to promote bystander action, the responses of people who may witness or be in close proximity to instances of racial bullying and racism.

'Research tells us that many of us aren't sure the best way to respond when we see or hear racism or racist bullying.'

'This is especially the case for children and adolescents who might feel peer pressure not to say anything or even to join in.

'We are keen to promote pro-active, positive bystander responses to racism among all of us so that we are all equipped with the best ways of speaking out against racism when we see it, and of supporting those who are targeted during such events.

'This helps create a social norm where we don't accept racist behaviour and can quickly address it if and when it occurs.'

The SOAR project will shortly begin collecting representative survey data across both Victoria and New South Wales from students and teachers about their experiences in this area. This will be the first time an Australian study will have representative data on these issues and experiences in Australian schools.

Schools across the country have already been randomly selected to participate in the study, which will also include links to NAPLAN and attendance data in an attempt to quantitatively understand the breadth of racism's impacts on student academic outcomes.

'We really hope this project provides important information for schools, communities and for policy makers so we can make our society as safe as possible for everyone, regardless of their background.'

If you aren't sure if your school is participating in the study, please check with your principal or contact Dr Naomi Priest or Dr Mandy Truong to find out how you may be involved.​

For more information about the project, see: SOAR - Speak Out Against Racism​