Background: Racism and racial discrimination are fundamental causes and determinants of health and health inequalities globally, with children and adolescents particularly vulnerable. Racial discrimination is a common stressor in the lives of many children and adolescents, with growing evidence of negative associations between racial discrimination and multiple domains of child and adolescent health. Addressing racism and racial discrimination must be core public health priorities, even more so among children and young people. Schools are key settings in the lives of children and adolescents and become increasingly more important to identity formation. School communities, teachers and peers greatly influence children and adolescents’ beliefs about race and difference. Schools are therefore key sites for the delivery of population-based programs to reduce racism and promote proactive bystander behaviour and healthy resistance to racism among all children and adolescents as well as among the adults.
Methods: This study examines the feasibility and acceptability of the ‘Speak Out Against Racism (SOAR)’ program, a whole of school, multi-level, multi-strategy program that aimed to promote effective bystander responses to racism and racial discrimination in primary schools. A mixed-methods, quasi-experimental design was used. Students in Years 5 and 6 (10–12 years) across six schools completed surveys pre- and post- intervention (N = 645; 52% female; 6% Indigenous, 10% Middle Eastern, African, Latinx or Pacific Islander, 21% Asian, 52% Anglo/European). Focus groups with students and interviews with staff collected qualitative data about their experiences of the program and their views about the program’s perceived need, implementation, impacts and suggested improvements.
Results: Quantitative data showed student prosocial skills and teacher inter-racial climate improved in intervention schools compared to comparison schools. Qualitative data highlighted teacher attitudinal and behaviour change regarding racism, and student reduced interpersonal racial discrimination, improved peer prosocial norms, commitment to anti-racism, knowledge of proactive bystander responses and confidence and self-efficacy to intervene to address racism.
Conclusions: This study provides quantitative evidence of the potential of the SOAR program to improve the prosocial skills of students and their perceptions of the inter-racial school climate provided by their teachers. This program also provided qualitative evidence of the potential to promote teacher and student attitudinal and behavioural change. Further refinement and testing of the program in a large scale implementation trial is recommended.