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One in three students in schools across the Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria have been racial bullied by their classmates, an unprecedented study has found.

The Speak Out Against Racism (SOAR) Survey
found Indigenous students and those with ethnic minority backgrounds were two times as likely to experience discrimination compared to their counterparts with Anglo or European lineage. More than 40% of these students reported being racially bullied by their peers. 

Students born overseas likewise reported twice the rate of bullying than students born in Australia. 

The study, conducted by the Australian National University, is the “first survey of its kind in the world.” With 4,600 primary and secondary students surveyed, the report’s lead author, Naomi Priest, said the study offers unparalleled insight into just how extensive racism is in Australian schools.

"Children and young people need to be safe, secure, and happy to learn, grow, and thrive,” Priest said in a statement.

"Racism and racial discrimination are avoidable and unfair, yet are faced at high levels by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people as well as those from ethnic minority backgrounds,” she added. "Racism and racial discrimination profoundly limit opportunities and have the potential for serious lifelong consequences.” 

More than half the surveyed students revealed they had seen one of their classmates being racially discriminated against. 

Of these students, 60% said they took action to stop the bullying or support the victim the majority of the time. Eight percent revealed they laughed or joined the bullying, while 12% said they did not intervene either way. 

Perhaps most disturbing, 43% of students said they saw racially-motivated discrimination directed to students by teachers.

In a joint statement, Tanya Plibersek, the shadow minister for education, and Andrew Giles, the shadow minister for multicultural affairs, said the new report was “deeply concerning.” 

"As the report acknowledges, our schools reflect our society. So if we are to address the serious issues the report reveals, consistent national leadership in standing up for multiculturalism and multicultural communities is required,” the statement reads. “Racism damages individual lives, and it diminishes all of us. It’s not who we are.”

Various reports show the presence of bullying and racism in the lives of young people can impact both academic achievement and overall health and development. 

Earlier this year, a United Nations report revealed one in three children across the world are bullied in school each month.

“Educational outcomes are lower for children who are bullied. Children who are frequently bullied are nearly twice as likely to skip school more often,” the report states. “Children who are bullied are also around twice as likely to feel lonely, to be unable to sleep at night, and to have contemplated suicide as those who are not bullied.” 

A separate report by the American Academy of Pediatrics looks explicitly at the impact of racism on child health. 

"Racism is a core social determinant of health that is a driver of health inequities,” the report reads. “The evidence to support the continued negative impact of racism on health and well-being through implicit and explicit biases, institutional structures, and interpersonal relationships is clear.”

Findings from the SOAR report will be used to help create an anti-racism initiative in schools.

“We need high-quality, whole-of-school programs built on evidence and which ... act to directly prevent and appropriately respond to racial discrimination and racism when it happens,” Priest said. “This is the aim of the second phase our work in SOAR — to develop and trial a bystander program that encourages students and staff to prevent and address racism and racial bullying.”


Demand Equity

1 in 3 Students in New South Wales and Victoria Have Experienced Racial Bullying: Report

By Madeleine Keck