The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Discriminatory Bullying Among Military-Connected Students Attending Public Schools

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 4:00 PM
Marina 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Hazel Atuel, PhD, Research Assistant Professor & Program Manager for Building Capacity Consortium, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Tamika D. Gilreath, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Ron Avi Astor, PhD, Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Julie Cederbaum, MSW, MPH, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Rami Benbenishty, PhD, Professor, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel
Diana Pineda, MHA, MSW, LCSW, SD Field Project Manager and Adjunct Faculty, University of Southern California, San Diego, CA
Kris M. Tunac De Pedro, PhD Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Monica C. Esqueda, PhD Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

 It is commonly reported in the bullying research literature that students are victimized due to the perception that they are associated with a particular group or category of person (Benbenishty & Astor, 2005).  Some have construed of these acts as a form of hate crime (Englander, 2007) or discrimination (Espelage & Poteat, 2012).  Specifically, behaviors that involve bullying due to a student’s gender, sexual orientation, race, age, or religion (Robinson & Espelage, 2011) are commonly understood as more severe actions worthy of expulsion within schools and criminal action outside of schools. 

Several studies have suggested that military students are victimized and engage in violence perpetration more often on school grounds than their civilian counterparts (Reed, et al., 2011). How do military students understand why they are being victimized?  To date, these questions have not been examined in empirical studies on bullying and discrimination (De Pedro et al., 2011). This study seeks to explore discriminatory bullying of military-connected students in secondary public schools.


The study was a cross-sectional study of 14,931 students in grades 7, 9, and 11 in Southern California. Data are from a subsample of the California Healthy Kids Survey. Discriminatory bullying was assessed by the extent to which students felt they were harassed or bullied on school grounds owing to their race/ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical/mental disability, or for other reasons. 


Compared to respondents who had no military connection, respondents who had a parent in the military reported significantly higher rates of any type of discrimination (47% vs. 36%), racial/ethnic discrimination (27% vs. 18%), religious discrimination (14% vs. 10%), gender discrimination (15.8% vs. 10.5%), sexual orientation discrimination (17% vs. 10%), physical/mental disability discrimination (9.8% vs. 5%) and other types of discrimination (30% vs. 22%). Additionally, increasing number of family member deployments in the past 10 years was associated with increased likelihood of discrimination in all of the models.  It contributed at least a 12% increase in likelihood of discrimination (religion; OR=1.12, CI=1.02-1.23) to a maximum of a 31% increase (gender; OR=1.31, CI=1.20-1.45).


The findings provide strong evidence that military-connected students feel bullied and discriminated against for a variety of reasons.  They feel targeted because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, because they may have mental or physical disabilities, their religion and other categorical reasons.  The findings also suggest that family stress related to war may make military students even more vulnerable to an array of discriminatory forms of bullying.  As the number of familial deployments increased, military-connected students’ reports of overall discriminatory experiences on school grounds increased as well.  Overall, these exploratory results provide directives on how military-connected students can be supported in public schools.