The UNC School of Education hosted the 2023 World Anti-Bullying Forum Oct. 25-27 in Raleigh, advancing the worldwide fight against bullying. The 2023 forum was the first hosted outside Europe.
Education faculty member Dorothy Espelage, the William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Education and a global leader in bullying prevention research, organized and co-emceed the event.
The forum drew nearly 600 attendees — youths, researchers, practitioners, policymakers, educators and other professionals — representing more than 30 countries. Educators from 13 North Carolina school districts and Carolina Community Academy attended, several with funding provided by the school.
During the forum’s opening ceremony, Fouad Abd-El-Khalick, education dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor, praised Espelage’s career and its impact. Abd-El-Khalick talked about how the school’s vision, mission, research and programming all align with and support the important goals and work of the forum. He spoke of the need for continued, wide-ranging collaboration on research and action on bullying in schools.
“Bullying, in all its manifestations, greatly diminishes the potential for both student learning and growth,” Abd-El-Khalick said. “We owe school students safe and nurturing environments where they are enabled to . . . [realize] their full potentials.”
The forum’s opening ceremony featured remarks from Crown Princess Mary Elizabeth of Denmark and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. Both spoke about the impact of bullying on young people and praised attendees’ commitment to prevent bullying.
“While it is important to care for each individual child, we need to understand the social dynamics that give rise to bullying in order to effectively prevent and intervene in such situations,” said the princess, who launched the Mary Foundation in 2007 to fight social isolation. “By collaborating and sharing knowledge and resources, we can make a greater impact and create a safer and more inclusive environment for all children.”
“A quality education is the great equalizer. It provides opportunities for children, and bullying can threaten it,” Cooper said. “Our schools need to be nurturing environments for students so they can learn, and they can grow and can succeed.”
Over the forum’s three days, six keynote addresses covered a range of bullying research and perspectives from five continents.
Sameer Hinduja, a leading cyberbullying scholar and professor at Florida Atlantic University, emceed alongside Espelage and led a session that included professionals from social media platforms Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.
UNESCO bullying and cyberbullying chair James O’Higgins Norman led a session that presented this definition of bullying: “School bullying is a damaging social process that is characterized by an imbalance of power driven by social (societal) and institutional norms. It is often repeated and manifests as unwanted interpersonal behavior among students or school personnel that causes physical, social and emotional harm to the targeted individuals or groups, and the wider school community.”
During the forum, Espelage received the 2023 Bullying Research Network-WABF Career Achievement Award. BRNET, based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, promotes international collaboration among bullying researchers. WABF was launched in 2017 by Friends, a Swedish nongovernmental organization that supplies adults with research-based tools to prevent bullying.
Espelage has devoted 30 years to extensive, collaborative and international research and practice to prevent bullying. She also was praised for her work to mentor young researchers, to bring research to practice and practice to research, and to center the voices of young people.
“This is hard work. It’s been a hard three decades,” Espelage said during her remarks. “We will continue to do this. Let’s do it together.”
Stavanger University in Norway will host the next biennial forum in 2025.