The SOAR Project: Speak Out Against Racism

SOAR LogoProfessor Kevin Dunn and Dr. Oishee Alam from Western Sydney University are working with the Australian National University (ANU) to investigate prosocial behaviours among school students in response to racism and racial bullying. This project is funded by an ARC Linkage Grant (LP140100413), the NSW Department of Education and the Department of Education and Training Victoria. The research team includes Dr. Naomi Priest and Dr. Tania King (ANU), Prof. Anne Kavanagh (University of Melbourne), Prof. Yin Paradies (Deakin University), Dr. Jacqueline Nelson (University of Technology, Sydney), and we are also partnered with the Australian Human Rights Commission. For more information on this project you can visit the ANU SOAR Project page.

The Project

Racism and racial bullying are important issues in the lives of many Australian children and young people, especially at school. This project aims to substantially increase understandings of bystander responses (including their extent, nature, potential, merits, benefits, constraints) as a means of countering racism and racial bullying among Australian school students. This will be achieved by:

  1. Examining experiences of, attitudes towards, and responses to, racism and racial bullying among school students
  2. Identifying health, wellbeing, education and social outcomes of racism and racial bullying for individuals, schools and communities
  3. Exploring the enablers and obstacles associated with bystander responses to racism and racial bullying
  4. Developing, piloting and evaluating a school-based program to foster proactive bystander responses to racism and racial bullying.


This mixed-method study will be conducted across two key phases.  Data collection will begin in Term 1 2017 with a baseline representative survey of school students in years 5-9 in Victoria and NSW (n=6,000 students across 60 schools) to gather data on existing bystander responses to racism and racial bullying. Teachers from those schools will complete brief surveys documenting their observations in relation to bullying and discrimination, as well as their school climate. In a substudy, secondary students will be invited to participate in a daily diary using their mobile phone, to document their experiences during the day over a period of two weeks.

Following the baseline survey, an intervention program will be delivered to four schools, including two schools that will form the wait list control group. The intervention will be a school-based program to support students in pro-social behaviour against racism and racial bullying, and will include teacher training, online resources and tools, and workshops for students. A post-test survey questionnaire will be administered to intervention and control schools immediately following the first round of intervention, and again after the wait list control schools receive the intervention, to track changes across time and between intervention and wait list control schools.

Focus groups and in-depth interviews will be conducted among students, teachers and members of school leadership in the schools that receive the intervention program, to examine their experiences and responses in greater depth.


Key findings from the 2017 Speak Out Against Racism (SOAR) student and staff surveys

  • 4664 Year 5 to Year 9 students surveyed (2081 in NSW, 2583 in Victoria).
  • 202 staff surveyed (88 in NSW, 114 in Victoria).
  • Students identified as Anglo-Celtic or European background (55%); South, East or Southeast Asian (22%); Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (5%); Middle Eastern (5%); Pacific Islander/Maori (4%); African (3%).
  • Students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, and from ethnic minority backgrounds were two times more likely to report experiences of racial discrimination compared to students from Anglo-Celtic backgrounds overall.
  • Students born overseas reported two times more experiences of racial discrimination than students born in Australia.
  • 60% of students reported witnessing other students’ experiences of racial discrimination.
  • Students from South Asian (74%) and African (68%) backgrounds reported witnessing the highest levels of racial discrimination.
  • Over 40% of students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds and from ethnic minority backgrounds reported experiences of racial discrimination from their peers.
  • Close to 20% of students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds reported experiences of racial discrimination from their teachers, and among ethnic minority students 18-30% of students reported these experiences with the highest levels among those from Middle Eastern and African backgrounds.
  • Over a third of students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds and from ethnic minority backgrounds reported experiences of racial discrimination from wider society.
  • 78% of students said they were able to make friends with students from different racial, ethnic or cultural backgrounds.
  • 11% of students agreed or strongly agreed that their friends would think badly of them if they ate lunch with a student from a different background.
  • Overall, students reported a higher likelihood of being a ‘defender’ – trying to stop bullying and supporting victims – when they witnessed bullying.
  • Students were least likely to be an ‘assistant’ -- indicating they did not join the bullying.
  • Overall, students across all ethnic groups reported an average level of more than 10 (from a scale of 3 to 15) when it came to how confident they would be to intervene when other students were being mistreated.

Key findings from the pilot of the SOAR school-based bystander intervention program will be available in 2020.

Further information