What is SOAR?
Racism and racial discrimination are major issues in the lives of many Australian children and young people, including at school. Racism and racial discrimination are unfair and unjust. There is also strong evidence racism and racial discrimination have harmful effects on children and young people’s mental health, such as depression, anxiety, behaviour difficulties, and suicide risk, sleep and on their physical health, including obesity risk, blood pressure and immune and inflammatory markers.
Childhood and adolescence is also a key time for the development of lifelong social beliefs, attitudes and behaviours as well as for identity formation.
School-based programs to eradicate racism and racial discrimination from the lives of children and adolescents and to promote societal anti-racism and bystander action are needed to optimise health and wellbeing for children and adolescents.
The Speak out against racism (SOAR) project is a collaborative school-based study on racism, racial discrimination and bystander responses to racism among Australian schools.
SOAR consists of two components:
SOAR survey – a population-representative survey (n = 4664) on the experiences, attitudes and intended behaviours of year 5–9 students in New South Wales (NSW) and Victorian government schools, and their teachers, in relation to racial discrimination, prosocial behaviour, bystander responses, health and wellbeing, and school connectedness.
SOAR program – piloting and evaluation of a school-based bystander intervention program in six primary schools across NSW and Victoria to encourage students and teachers to act when they witness racism and racial discrimination.
The SOAR project is funded by the Australian Research Council, and the NSW Department of Education and Victorian Department of Education and Training. Project partners are the NSW and Victorian education departments and the Australian Human Rights Commission, with a research team from the ANU, Western Sydney University, Deakin University, University of Technology Sydney, and the University of Melbourne.
2017 Speak Out Against Racism (SOAR) student and staff surveys
Experiences of Racism:
- About half (55%) of the survey sample comprised students identifying as either Anglo-Celtic or European. The second biggest group (almost 22%) comprised students from South, East and Southeast Asia. Of the sample, 5% identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, 5% as Middle Eastern, 4% as Pacific Islander or Maori, 3% as African and 1% as Latin American; 5% did not report an ethnic background.
- Just over half the student participants and their parents were born in Australia
- Over 40% of students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds and from ethnic minority backgrounds reported experiences of racial discrimination from their peers.
- 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.
- 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.
- 60% of students witnessed other students’ experiences of racial discrimination.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
2020 Evaluation of the SOAR program Pilot
- Staff and students reported the SOAR program was engaging, effective, structured well and supported, and were enthusiastic about it being expanded to other schools.
- Staff and students felt the SOAR program raised teacher confidence to discuss and address racism, student peer prosocial norms and school climate, students’ racial literacy, awareness of racism, and knowledge and confidence to intervene proactively to address racism at school, as well as reduced racial discrimination at school.
- Student survey data showed statistical evidence of change over time in student prosocial skills and student perceptions of the teacher inter-ethnic climate for schools receiving the SOAR program compared with schools that did not receive it.
- Survey findings also provided no statistical evidence of harm in terms of increased racial discrimination or total mental health difficulties, which can be unintended consequences of anti-racism programs with children.
“… [SOAR is] helping empower children, with the teams and the ideas they have so you're looking at making a safe space to talk about racism. You’re upskilling teachers to deal with racism as an issue and then you’re empowering children to be drivers of the cause, so I don’t think there’s a teacher out there that wouldn’t think those are good things to have” (NSW school Leadership staff member)
“Doing playground duties, you can definitely see the different interactions of kids in terms of issues happening, a lot of them seem to be a bit more involved positively to try and fix it, which was cool to see.” (NSW Teacher)
“… It’s a really great and comforting program for those that have a different ethnicity or race to know that they're being supported by people.” (NSW Student)
“It just gave us more like solutions, just small situations that we could kind of, in our own way, we could stop it. It just showed us ways we could deal with it in our lives … the whole big thing of racism sucks and we need to get rid of it” (Victorian Student)
Frequently asked questions
Download the SOAR FAQ sheet.
Research reveals what racism can do to a child's body (UNICEF Australia)
(Human Rights Commission)
Indigenous students skipping school to avoid bullying and racism
The Conversation, April, 2014
Racism hits Indigenous students’ attendance and grades
The Conversation, September, 2015
How do you talk to kids about racism?
The Conversation, November, 2016
Teenagers who are both bully and victim are more likely to have suicidal thoughts
The Conversation, April, 2017
MJA InSight May, 2020
ABC News May, 2020
CNN June, 2020
CNN May 2020
For further information please contact email@example.com
SOAR in the Media
ANU Media- August 2019
Western Sydney University Media- August, 2019
ABC, The Drum- August, 2019
The Age- August, 2019
The Currier- August, 2019
SBS News- August, 2019
The Guardian- August, 2019
Global Citizen- August, 2019
10 News First Twitter- June, 2020
ABC News- June, 2020
The Sydney Morning Herald- June, 2020
The Canberra Times- June, 2020
ABC News- June 2020
Priest, N., Truong, M., Chong, S., Paradies, Y., King, T., Kavanagh, A., Olds, T., Craig, J M., & Burgner, D. (2020). Experiences of racial discrimination and cardiometabolic risk among Australian children. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2020.02.012
Priest, N., Kavanagh, A., Bécares, L., & King, T. (2019). Cumulative effects of bullying and racial discrimination on adolescent health in Australia. Journal of health and social behavior, 60(3), 344-361. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jech.2010.117366
Priest, N., Perry, R., Ferdinand, A., Paradies, Y., & Kelaher, M. (2014). Experiences of racism, racial/ethnic attitudes, motivated fairness and mental health outcomes among primary and secondary school students. Journal of youth and adolescence, 43(10), 1672-1687. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0140-9
Priest, N., Paradies, Y., Trenerry, B., Truong, M., Karlsen, S., & Kelly, Y. (2013). A systematic review of studies examining the relationship between reported racism and health and wellbeing for children and young people. Social science & medicine, 95, 115-127. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.11.031
Priest, N., Paradies, Y., Stevens, M., & Bailie, R. (2012). Exploring relationships between racism, housing and child illness in remote indigenous communities. J Epidemiol Community Health, 66(5), 440-447. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jech.2010.117366