The Tolerance Generation: High School, Inequality and the Anti-Bullying Era
Sarah Miller

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Massachusetts Amherst

Primary Discipline

By 2015, all 50 states have passed anti-bullying laws and most of the nation’s schools now have anti-bullying policies in place to protect youth from conflict. Yet scholars know little about how anti-bullying policies and initiatives are put into practice, what effects they have on school climate, and how these effects vary among youth across social location. This dissertation is an ethnographic study of the effects of bullying and anti-bullying initiatives within a high school community in the Northeast. Drawing on theoretical tools from cultural sociology, this study seeks to expand empirical understandings of youth conflict by approaching bullying as an ecology—as a set of behaviors that emerge from a context-specific set of interdependent relationships among individuals, families, school communities, and institutional norms and ideologies. The field site is a rural high school that is expressly committed to eradicating bullying, fostering a positive school climate, and promoting tolerance. Through two academic years of intensive fieldwork, analysis of the school’s bullying reports and trainings, observations of students’ use of social media, and in-depth interviews with 127 youth, teachers, parents, and school officials, this study intimately examines how gender, sexuality, class, and race shape this community’s experiences with youth conflict and anti-bullying initiatives. I find that while these initiatives have benefits, they also have many unintended outcomes. While working to prevent teen conflict, anti-bullying initiatives also reinforce social inequalities among youth. In addition to offering contributions to sociological scholarship, this dissertation will accessibly speak to an educational policy audience, urging educators and policymakers to make decisions that take into account the multiple effects anti-bullying initiatives have on school communities and the lives of young people.
About Sarah Miller
Sarah Miller is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research focuses broadly on youth, education, and social inequality. Her dissertation draws from two academic years of fieldwork, social media observations, and 127 in-depth interviews to explore the varying impacts of youth conflict and anti-bullying initiatives on a high school community in the Northeast. Her other studies have investigated community debates over representations of sexuality in schools and how class, race, and sexuality shape young women’s experiences with relational aggression. Sarah’s research has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the University of Massachusetts, and the Center for Research on Families and has been published in Gender & Society, Sexualities, and the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. She has worked as a research assistant for the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality, Future of Sex Education, and Advocates for Youth on a variety of initiatives focused on advancing adolescent health, policy, and sexuality education. Prior to graduate school, Sarah directed a sexual violence prevention program providing education and outreach to Chicago Public Schools and local universities.

Pin It on Pinterest