A Headlines Theatre production ©2003

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Don't Say A Word
interactive theatre about how not to get your ass kicked

Below is a letter to Headlines from Shelley Hymel who provided this evaluation of our Anti-Bullying Forum...

To: David Diamond, Headlines Theatre

From: Shelley Hymel, Faculty of Education, UBC

Date: 4 April, 2003

RE: Impact of Headlines Anti-Bullying Forum on Secondary Students

The University of British Columbia

Faculty of Education

2125 Main Hall

Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4


Vancouver School Board

1580 West Broadway

Vancouver, BC V6J 5K8

During the fall of 2003, Headlines Theatre, under the direction of David Diamond, worked with students from two secondary schools within the Vancouver School District to explore a drama-based approach to raising awareness regarding harassment, bullying and discrimination difficulties in school. The Headlines Theatre Anti-Bullying Forum provided a unique opportunity for students to develop a greater appreciation of the implications of harassment on others, as drama offers a powerful medium through which students can be intensely engaged in exploring the immediate and long-range impact of harassment for both victim and perpetrator. This unique effort not only encouraged students to add their own voice to this pervasive problem, it also empowered them to become active in addressing the issue, while providing adults and educators with insights into the nature and extent of the problem in school. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with the Headlines Theatre Staff on this project.

In both schools, informal feedback regarding the Forum has been extremely positive, from both students and staff, underscoring the power of this medium to bring issues of harassment to the forefront. As part of an ongoing partnership between the Faculty of Education at UBC and the Vancouver School Board (VSB), I consulted on this project, and was asked by one of the schools to assist in a more formal evaluation of the impact of this theatre-based intervention on students using data collected as part of the school's own self-evaluation. What follows is a report of our findings.

Overview of Evaluation Design and Sample

In one participating secondary school, we had the unique opportunity to formally evaluate the impact of this theatre-based "intervention" on students in grades 8-12 using the results of an extensive student survey on bullying, harassment and discrimination that was completed anonymously by all students as part of a school-based evaluation just two weeks after the Headlines Theatre performances. A total of 833 students (all who were present on the day the surveys were distributed) completed the survey from this school. Given the fact that not all classes or students in the school were able to participate in or view the Headlines Theatre performances, we were able to compare survey responses from students who had participated in this forum (as a cast member or audience member) with students from the same school and grade who did not participate in order to evaluate the immediate impact of the experience on student reports of the prevalence of harassment in the school as well as their own attitudes and beliefs about such behavior. As part of our UBC-VSB partnership, I was able to assist the school in analyzing the information collected on these surveys, with particular interest in whether or not the Headline's Theatre experience made any difference in how students viewed the problem. In the paragraphs that follow, I summarize the findings that emerged from this comparative evaluation of the impact of Headlines Theatre on secondary students, with efforts to maintain the anonymity of the students and school involved.

Our goal was to compare students who participated in the Anti-Bullying Forum with those who did not. To this end, one question on the survey specifically asked students to indicate whether or not they participated in the theatre experience and to what degree. Responses to this item allowed us to identify three groups of students:

  • cast members (n=19 out of 20, 13 girls/6 boys)
  • "active" audience members who joined in and tried to change outcomes in the play (n=14, 9 girls/5 boys)
  • "passive" audience members who just watched the performance (n=108, 68 girls/40 boys).

Participation was mostly among girls in the sample and mostly among grade 10 students. Specifically, 49 students (6 cast members) were from grades 8 & 9, 54 students (6 cast members) were from grade 10, and 38 students (7 cast members) from grades 11 - 12.

For comparison purposes, we identified, for each participant, another "comparison" student from among all those who completed the school survey who were the same age, the same grade and who were the same in terms of whether or not English was their first language and whether or not they could read/write English easily. If more than one "comparison" student was available, a student was randomly selected from those who qualified as a "match". This procedure resulted in a sample of 141 "participants" that we could compare with 141 "matched nonparticipants" who did not participate at all but who came from the same population.


Comparisons(1) of the responses of students who had participated in the Anti-Bullying Forum (as cast or audience members) with those who had not participated revealed that involvement in the Anti-Bullying Forum served to increase awareness about bullying, harassment, and discrimination, especially among males. This was evident in the higher reports of many different forms of harassment by students who had participated in the theatre event relative to those who had not participated at all.

Specifically, both male and female students who participated in the Headlines Theatre Forum admitted to significantly more bullying of others(2) as well as more victimization (being bullied by others)(3). Boys and students in younger (grade 8-9) and older (grade 11-12) grades who participated in the Anti-Bullying Forum were more likely to report increased levels of victimization than those who did not participate. In addition, participants also reported significantly more sexual harassment from boys than did non-participants(4). Moreover, boys (but not girls) who participated in the Anti-Bullying Forum reported being recipients of higher levels of racial discrimination(5) than boys who did not. Given previous evidence(6) that effective anti-bullying interventions often lead to initial increases in reports of such behavior, these elevated levels of reporting by participants most likely reflect their increased awareness of the problem.

Did greater awareness of harassment, bullying and discrimination lead students to feel less safe at school? Although participation in the Anti-Bullying Forum did not affect students' overall feelings of safety at school(7), male (but not female) participants expressed significantly greater concern or fear that they might be "physically attacked by other students" and "physically hurt by a group of other kids from school", as compared with students who did not participate at all(8).

Participation in Headlines Theatre was also associated with a slight increase in reported reported willingness to help others who were being bullied, especially among cast members as opposed to passive audience participants, but this effect was small and non-significant. However, students who participated in the Anti-Bullying Forum were significantly more likely to feel that they "know what they can do to stop harassment" than students who did not participate(9). This effect was particularly evident for younger students, grades 8 through 10, rather than older students (grades 11-12). In addition, for a composite measure reflecting student beliefs about how important it is and how much it is their responsibility to stop harassment and bullying, younger (grade 8-9) students who participated reported more willingness to respond and be responsible than did students who did not participate.

Participation in the Anti-Bullying Forum did not seem to change student perceptions of the climate of the school (i.e., how much they see the school as a community in which they are respected and valued) nor the degree to which they feel that they "matter" in school.

Finally, students in grade 8-9 and 10 who participated in the Anti-Bullying Forum were more aware of the fact that "most forms of harassment, bullying and discrimination are actually criminal offenses", as compared to grade mates who did not participate.

Overall, the impact of the Headlines Theatre Anti-Bullying Forum, as reflected in student responses to a survey about harassment completed just two weeks after the theatre performances, was primarily evident in increased student awareness of the problem, as reflected in higher reports of such behavior by both self and others in multiple forms, as well as greater awareness that such behaviors were often "criminal offenses". In addition, although there was only a slight (but nonsignificant) tendency for participants to provide more help to others who were being harassed, participants were more likely to report that they "knew what to do to stop harassment". Overall, effects were particularly evident for boys, who often show less awareness of the problem generally. Given that these data were collected only a short time after the Headlines Theatre presentation, these effects are actually most encouraging. In just a few short weeks, this unique theatre effort planted seeds that have already begun to grow in the minds of those students who participated. Over time, the increased awareness that is evident among participants should continue to affect how students think and behave, as students apply what they have learned to their own real-life situations.

Thanks to you and the Headlines Theatre staff for making this possible.



Shelley Hymel, Ph.D.

(1) Initial comparisons were undertaken using degree of participation (cast member versus "active" audience member, versus "passive" audience member) as an independent variable, but there were minimal differences as a function of degree of participation. As a result, the majority of analyses were conducted using univariate and multivariate analyses of variance, with three independent variables: participation vs. nonparticipation, sex of respondent (female, male), and grade level (younger grades 8-9, grade 10, and older grades 11-12) given that the majority of participants were grade 10 students. Variations observed as a function of degree of participation are noted if significant.
(2)   (1,267) = 4.77, p < .04 for a composite on reported physical, verbal and social bullying
(3)   (1,263) = 5.60, p < .02 for a composite on reported physical, verbal and social victimization
(4)   (1, 238) = 9.38, p < .01 for a composite for reported sexual harassment received from male students
(5)   (1, 263) = 6.53, p < .02 for a composite for reported racial discrimination received
(6)   e.g., D. Olweus (1993) Bullying in schools: What we know and what we can do.
(7)   Item: "I feel safe at school" Response options: NO no some yes YES
(8)   (1,267) = 3.78, p = .05 for "physically attacked by other students";  (1, 267) = 3.95, p .05 for "physically hurt by a group of other students from school"
(9)   (1,269) = 4.64, p .05 for the item " I know what I can do to stop harassment"