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USF Communication Professor Analyzes Bullying

Keith Berry, who serves on a national anti-bullying task force, analyzes personal stories of bullying to better understand how the problem shapes identities and relationships among young people.

TAMPA, Fla. (May 26, 2016) – University of South Florida Associate Professor of Communication Keith Berry knows the destructive societal problem of bullying inside and out. Not only does he research the issue through analyzing stories told by those who have experienced bullying, he also uses his own childhood experiences with being bullied to inform his work.

“Bullying is real, it is disturbing, and it is a menacing problem in today’s lived experience,” explains Berry. “Interactions, relationships and the symbolic construction of meaning are at the heart of the bullying problem. Bullying makes a spectacle of its victims, and involves real injury to the victim’s identity and often to their bodies.”


Keith Berry

According to Berry, who serves as co-chair for the National Communication Association's (NCA) Anti-Bullying Task Force, one in three American school children in grades 6-10 is affected by bullying. Ten percent of children who drop out of school do so because of repeated bullying. Of the students surveyed (The Bully Project, 2013), 70 percent feel that schools are doing a poor job of responding to bullying. Yet, up to 64 percent of children who are bullied do not report it, making it imperative that we have more informed dialogue on this problem.

Berry became interesting in doing research on bullying after seeing media reports on the pain and suffering experienced by victims.

“I felt sad and frustrated and wanted to do something before another life was senselessly lost,” says Berry.

Berry, who also addresses cyberbullying, a more recent form of bullying in the internet and social media era, looks at the communication and relationship aspects of bullying and investigates how it crosses lines of race, gender and sexual orientation. His emphases are on identity, well-being and how young people attempt to cope with the issue.

By becoming active in the NCA’s task force, he works closely with a team of communication scholars from across the country who will build collaborative research teams to stimulate cutting-edge, communication-based research on bullying and anti-bullying intervention.

“We are planning a summit on youth bullying that will offer education professionals the latest research and resources for combatting bullying in their schools,” he says.

His new book, Bullied: Tales of Torment, Identity and Youth (Routledge, 2016), relates and analyzes personal stories from five students who have experienced bullying, adding methodological and ethical dimensions to their accounts while dissecting the communicative and symbolic aspects of bullying. He also reveals his own struggles with being bullied.

“Writing this book has put me in close contact with pain and suffering – that of others and my own,” said Berry. “I wrote this book for and ‘with’ those who have committed suicide as a result of bullying, those who continue to be bullied, and for parents, friends, teachers and other school staff so that their attention is drawn to bullying with the hope they can respond. I hope people reading the book will benefit and engage in a meaningful dialogue on bullying. I also hope that reading this book will help someone. Writing it has certainly helped me.”

Berry advises those who are being bullied to remember “your bullying story, much like the pain and confusion you probably feel, is real and matters” and to share their story with someone they trust, especially a parent. “So often young people don’t talk about being bullied,” explains Berry. “But it’s important to let others know what is happening. Sharing your story will likely show you that others are living through bullying and also help you feel you are not alone.”

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