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SOU grant used to fund bullying study

A Southern Oregon University professor has won a grant to study bullying, cyber-bullying and peer victimization in cultures around the world and recommend strategies for reducing its psychological impacts on children.

Psychology Associate Professor Douglas Smith was chosen by SOU President Mary Cullinan as one of three recipients of the 2012 President's Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity Fund.

Sharing in the $10,000 grant are Professor Marlene Alt and Assistant Professor David Bithell of the Department of Art and Art History.

Smith, who has been studying bullying for 25 years, will use $4,000 of the fund to conduct the victimization survey and recommend strategies for preventing it. Over the winter and spring terms, he will collaborate with Professor Michael Furlong of the University of California at Santa Barbara, as he has in the past, and they will publish their results in professional journals and give presentations at conferences.

"We know bullying happens all over the world and is a significant problem," says Smith. "We're interested in what kinds of factors lessen the long-term impacts in mental health, depression, low self-esteem and school drop-out."

Cyber-bulling or peer victimization via texting or social networks "has become a big part of bullying now, especially in tech-savvy cultures like Japan," he says.

Smith hopes the study eventually will get incorporated into workshops being developed by professionals in the field.

"Teachers can do a lot to help solve the problem by establishing a classroom climate that's pro-social behavior and where bullying is not the norm and really stands out," he says.

A specialist in children's aggression, Smith says he will research "how to find ways to empower kids, so they feel confident enough to take matters into their own hands by reporting what's happening to them."

The foundation grant will allow Smith to hire a research assistant. He will also seek other funds for the project.

Marlene Alt, a noted sculptor, will use her portion of the grant during her artist-in-residence in Budapest, Hungary, and will do an audio-visual presentation there.

David Bithell will further his work on a creative project called "The Difference Engine," using wireless audio, visual and sensor technologies to compose a 30-minute performance in collaboration with Yarn/Wire, an ensemble in New York City. His project has performers interacting with a network of mobile cameras in a musical and theatrical experience.

"It's built on the structure of a traditional musical performance, with grand piano and percussionist, a large projection screen and loud speakers," says Bithell. "It's not improv acting. The actions are controlled and the actors are also musicians. ...The images are projected from unique angles and perspectives and come across as an invented mythology, with dramatization of small themes."

One of the themes is "Lovers' Portraits," where the actors are shadow puppets behind a screen on which 19th century images are projected using a complex montage of technologies now being used in the new Emerging Media and Visual Arts Department of SOU. Bithell has been working on the project for over a year and the funds, he says, will allow him to finish. Recipients of the grants present each May during Southern Oregon Arts and Research, SOU's annual celebration of student and faculty work. Cullinan says in a press release that she chose Smith, Bithell and Alt because of the significance of their projects nationally and internationally.

"SOU faculty are being widely recognized," she says. "Their research and creative endeavors enrich their teaching and provide extraordinary experiences for students. I want to increase the visibility of our faculty's work on campus and beyond."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.