COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland has partnered with AT&T to develop the Terrapin Upstander Program, an anti-bullying effort aimed at analyzing the causes of bullying and implementing tools and resources to help prevent it, both online and off. The $75,000 contribution from AT&T will kick off this month to align with National Bullying Prevention Month.
The UMD collaboration extends AT&T’s online safety programs. The program’s goal is to empower students to stand up to negative online behavior, combat cyberbullying, and become Upstander ambassadors within their schools and communities.
University of Maryland researchers Rashawn Ray, professor of Sociology, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Cixin Wang, associate professor of School Psychology, College of Education, will conduct interviews and surveys with UMD freshmen and upperclassmen about their experiences with cyberbullying. Using three large sociology courses (including an I-series course and two general education requirements), researchers will solicit student volunteers for 30-minute interviews about their experiences with cyberbullying during high school and college. The research will be conducted in collaboration with the Office of Community Engagement and researchers from the Lab for Applied Social Science Research and the Lab for Bullying Prevention and Mental Health Promotion.
Researchers will then transcribe, code, and analyze the interview data and quantitatively analyze the surveys. At the end of the Fall 2021 semester, researchers will conduct the Upstander workshop with roughly 360 students who will become allies against cyberbullying. Students will also learn bystander intervention strategies to support children, adolescents and college students during cyberbullying situations as mentors, peers, and future educators and parents.
"Our collaboration with AT&T will help empower students to identify and speak out about cyberbullying incidents,” says Dr. Ray, who serves as Executive Director of UMD’s Lab for Applied Social Science Research. “Roughly 90% of youth report witnessing bullying online. But, there is hope. About 80% report seeing someone intervene during these bullying incidents. Arming students will bystander intervention strategies to combat mistreatment is vital, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic where they are spending more time than ever online.”
“Research has shown that adolescents, on average, spend almost nine hours daily using online media. Cyberbullying and online violence is especially a problem during the pandemic. For example, one recent study analyzed conversations on Twitter and Reddit and showed a notable increase in cyberbullying (e.g., violence-related posts) on social media since the beginning of the pandemic (Babvey et al., 2020)” says Dr. Wang. “In my own research, we found that cyberbullying is related to mental health difficulties among youth, including suicidal thoughts and behaviors. In order to prevent cyberbullying, we have been conducting parenting workshops to share evidence-based strategies to prevent cyberbullying and discrimination.”