International Day Against Violence and Bullying at School, Including Cyberbullying

By USCRI October 31, 2023

The first Thursday of November is International Day Against Violence and Bullying at School, Including Cyberbullying and the theme for 2023 is No place for fear: Ending school violence for better mental health and learning. In supporting children and adolescents’ rights to safety, education, and health and well-being, UCSRI commemorates this day by raising awareness about bullying and discrimination and the wide range of associated negative outcomes on refugee youth.

What is bullying?

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive, and often repeated behavior among school-aged youth that involves a real or perceived power imbalance whereby bullies use their power to control or harm others. Since bullying is about power and control, any student who appears vulnerable can be a target. Often these are children from marginalized, poor, or migrant and refugee communities, children with different gender identities, or children with disabilities.

For many refugee youth, discrimination and bullying are a part of their everyday lives. Adjusting to a new culture is extremely stressful and can result in greater social isolation among refugee youth, thus potentially contributing to bullying victimization. Prejudicial beliefs about migrants and refugees have been associated with a greater likelihood of these children being victimized by bullying. In a research study of immigrant and non-immigrant sixth and ninth graders, bullying was thought of as unacceptable, however non-immigrant youth thought bullying immigrant peers was more acceptable than bullying non-immigrant peers (Gonultas & Mulvey, 2020). A 2016 research study found that migrant and refugee youth were more likely to be victims of bullying than their U.S.-born peers, particularly cyberbullying (Maynard et al., 2016). As immigrant youth are the fastest growing population within public schools in the U.S., these are extremely worrying trends.

What are the different types and forms of bullying?

Bullying can occur both in-person and online. Verbal bullying involves saying or writing mean things, including name-calling, taunting, inappropriate sexual comments, or threatening to cause harm. Social bullying involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships, including spreading rumors, embarrassing someone in public, or telling other children not to be friends with someone. Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions, such as hitting, kicking, spitting, tripping, pushing, or taking someone’s possessions. Cyberbullying occurs over social media, SMS/text, instant messaging, email, gaming platforms, or any online platform where children and adolescents interact. Cyberbullying can include sending hurtful, abusive, or threatening messages, images, or videos or spreading lies about or posting embarrassing photos or videos of someone online.

Race- or ethnic-based bullying was coined to describe when bullying occurs based on differences in race or ethnic background or cultural identity. This form of bullying may include direct forms of aggression such as racial taunts and slurs, derogatory references to culturally-specific customs, practices, and foods, as well as indirect forms of aggression, such as social exclusion because of ethnic or racial differences (Lim & Hoot, 2015). When bullying is sufficiently serious and based on race/ethnicity, culture, religion, or citizenship status, it may be considered discriminatory harassment. Refugee students and those who attend predominantly white schools are frequently racially targeted by their peers, and a 2015 research study in New York found that among refugee adolescents, the most common forms of bullying were based on race, language and accent, clothing, and religion (as cited in Lloyd, 2019).

What are the effects of bullying?

Bullying affects everyone – those who bully, those who are being bullied, and those who witness bullying – and is linked to a host of negative outcomes, including impacts on physical and mental health and academic performance. Cyberbullying can cause profound harm, as it can instantly reach a wide audience and leave a permanent footprint online for everyone involved.

For refugee youth, bullying victimization can make refugee youth feel isolated, fearful, lonely, and powerless. Bullying exacerbates their acculturation challenges which can lead to low self-esteem, greater stress, depression, poor academic performance, lower academic engagement, substance abuse, fewer close friends, weaker family relationships, and behavioral problems (Guo et al., 2019; Maynard et al., 2016). Perceived discrimination has been found to be the strongest predictor of depression and negative self-image among recently resettled adolescent refugees (as cited in Lloyd, 2019). To make matter worse, sometimes it is the school system that contributes to the bullying of refugee students in the form of institutional bullying which refers to the way bullying is perpetrated, reinforced, or normalized by those in positions of power in schools. For example, Syrian refugee students subjected to discrimination and bullying reported feeling a lack of support from and being treated unfairly by their teachers (Guo et al., 2019).

How can bullying be prevented?

stop bullyingThe existence of anti-immigrant prejudice plays an important role in driving bullying victimization among refugee children and youth. To tackle bullying against migrant and refugee youth, negative perceptions and prejudice at the societal and local levels need to be addressed (Caravita, 2016). School systems and educators are in a key position to provide inclusive and culturally safe school environments by implementing strategies that proactively address and reduce bullying and discrimination, dispel negative preconceptions, and provide opportunities for positive interactions across different groups and cultures. When bullying does occur, it is critical that school personnel act swiftly using a restorative justice model that emphasizes communication, empathy, reconciliation, and support to those who are harmed (Costello & Dillard, 2019).

Schools, resettlement agencies, and other organizations that work with refugees can educate refugee families and students about their right to a safe, supportive, and inclusive school environment, and the importance of reporting any harassment, intimidation, or bullying to adult or school personnel.

Migrant and refugee children and youth bring skills, abilities, aspirations, and hopes to their new schools and communities. We all have a role to play in affirming refugee children’s hopes and strengths. Let us all commit to modeling courage, compassion, empathy, and civility in support of a common principle that bullying of any kind is never acceptable.


Caravita, S. C. S. (2016). Blog: Migrant and refugee children face higher rates of bullying. UNICEF. Retrieved from Blog – Migrant and refugee children face higher rates of bullying (unicef-irc.org)

Costello, M. & Dillard, C. (2019). Hate at School. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved from https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/tt_2019_hate_at_school_report_final_0.pdf

Gonultas, S. & Mulvey, K. L. (2020). The role of immigration background, intergroup processes, and social-cognitive skills in bystanders’ responses to bias-based bullying toward immigrants during adolescence. Child Development, 92(3), e296-e316. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13476.

Guo, Y., Maitra, S., & Guo, S. (2019). “I belong nowhere”: Syrian refugee children’s perspectives on school integration. Journal of Contemporary Issues in Education, 14(1), 89-105.

Lim, S. J. J. & Hoot, J. L. (2015). Bullying in an increasingly diverse school population: a socio-ecological model analysis. School Psychology International36(3), 268-282. https://doi.org/10.1177/0143034315571158.

Lloyd, K. (2019). Mental illness among adolescent refugees in the United States. Ballard Brief, 1(1). https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/ballardbrief/vol2019/iss1/1/

Maynard, B. R., Vaughn, M. G., Salas-Wright, C. P., & Vaughn, S.R. (2016). Bullying victimization among school-aged youth in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health, 58(3), 337-334. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.11.013

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