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School of Education hosts World Anti-Bullying Forum for first time outside Europe

Emcees Dorothy Espelage, William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Education at the UNC School of Education, and Sameer Hinduja, professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University, welcome attendees to the 2023 World Anti-Bullying Forum during the conference's opening ceremony, held Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the Raleigh Convention Center. Photo Courtesy of Jafar Fallahi/UNC School of Education.

UNC’s School of Education was chosen to host the biennial forum for the conference’s first time outside of Europe.

From Oct. 25-27, researchers, policymakers and educators met at the Raleigh Convention Center for part of the fourth World Anti-Bullying Forum.The three-day global conference invited experts from a variety of disciplines to discuss bullying and violence against young people. 

Attendees of the conference included Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and Gov. Roy Cooper.

Organized and led by Dorothy Espelage, an education professor at UNC, this year’s event featured an array of workshops, symposiums, keynote speeches and social sessions. Espelage’s research focuses on bullying in higher-level education, specifically intervention and prevention programming. 

Emcee Sameer Hinduja, professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University and co-director of theCyberbullying Research Center, said before WABF, there wasn’t a consistent entity to bring practitioners, scholars, researchers and youth advocates together to discuss bullying-related issues. 

Hinduja said the forum avoids merely discussing theories without practical implications. 

“One of the other cool things about our conference and forum is that we are always focusing on the actionable strategies — the takeaways,” he said.

Espelage said the forum is not just about sharing programs and interventions. She said the event is also a place to discuss challenges of real-world implementation and how they can be made sustainable in the “messy” school environment. 

One keynote speech, led by Kevin Runions, the area lead for research, evaluation and monitoring at the School of Mental Health in Ontario, was titled “Humans Implement Bullying Prevention Programs, Too! Steps to an Ecology of School Action.” 

In the speech, Runions shared his findings surrounding the reality of implementing bullying prevention programs in schools and said he doesn’t think of the U.S. as a leader in bullying research. Instead, he said he considers Norway and Finland to be at the forefront in this area. 

“As an outsider, as a non-American, I think one of America’s magic powers is to take ideas and make them big,” Runions said.

Aside from UNC, Espelage said other North Carolina universities including Duke, N.C. State, North Carolina Central University and Wake Forest house some of the leading developmental psychologists and researchers addressing youth violence.

For this reason, Hinduja said holding the forum in Raleigh was a “perfect fit” because its goals align with what the North Carolina region has been doing for so long.

“One thing about the research around bullying is because the definition of bullying has power imbalance right at the heart of it, it lends itself to other areas because power isn’t exclusive to peers in school — kids in school,” Runions said. “Power is sort of everywhere.” 

Receiving a high school diploma doesn’t mean these types of mean, cruel behaviors don’t persist, Espelage said. From her experience teaching at UNC, she said people are starting to recognize that campus “grind culture” makes building relationships and fostering an inclusive community on campus more difficult. 

While there is still bullying and relational aggression that occurs at the college level, Hinduja said many professionals and researchers at the forum also study issues like intimate image abuse, sextortion, stalking and related experiences impacting college students.

Espelage said the WABF has grown to include identity-based bullying, hate speech, sexual harassment and other areas that are not traditionally emphasized at the forum. 

“There’s a continually growing enthusiasm and excitement about making a difference in the lives of young people,” Hinduja said.


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