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Two-Eyed Seeing: researching cyberbullying for Indigenous youth

Dr. Johanna Sam has established the Community-based Indigeneity Resiliency Cyberbullying Lab and Education (C.I.R.C.L.E) at UBC to work with students in a social science lab setting.

September 23, 2022

Online bullying, or cyberbullying, is increasingly common among teenagers. Dr. Johanna Sam of the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education in the UBC Faculty of Education wants to develop a cultural understanding of cyberbullying and resiliency in online spaces for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth.

“Cyberbullying can happen in many different ways,” says Dr. Sam. “On the low level, it could be sharing a picture you don’t want to be shared. On the more extreme side, it’s making spam accounts to impersonate or harass someone.”

As a proud member of the Tŝilhqot’in Nation, Dr. Sam recognizes the need for a Two-Eyed Seeing approach that combines the strengths of Western and Indigenous ways of knowing within her work.

“Two-eyed seeing is an Indigenous concept from the East Coast, from Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall,” explains Dr. Sam. “You see Western approaches, Western concepts in one side of your eye, and then on the other side of your eye, equally, you see Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous concepts. So out of both eyes, they’re equivalent.”

Her research and teaching utilize digital technology and approach those digital tools from Indigenous perspectives by exploring the relationships among online aggression, resiliency, academic achievement, and wellness. She has established the Community-based Indigeneity Resiliency Cyberbullying Lab and Education (C.I.R.C.L.E) to work with students in a social science lab setting.

“It’s looking at community being first and then working with Indigenous concepts or ways of knowing,” says Dr. Sam. “I’m interested in resiliency and how young people cope … or how we can support them by taking a strength-based approach.”

For her research, Dr. Sam uses an experience sampling method, where youth download an app on their phone and are notified twice daily after school for three to four weeks to answer a short survey.

“Twice every day after school, I have shots of what they’re doing online—which is unique in cyberbullying research,” says Dr. Sam. “In the past, we used surveys and questionnaires with young people—and on those, we might ask them, have you been cyberbullied in the last two weeks, six months, a year? There was so much variability in how we asked them, and we’re asking them to think back to when it happened.”

Past research indicated that up to 30% of youth were cyberbullied. Dr. Sam feels the limitations of the questionnaire method may have skewed those results. She hopes to get more immediate and accurate data with a twice-a-day check-in on the app.

A two-year Canadian government Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant is supporting C.I.R.C.L.E and Dr. Sam’s research. Over the course of two years, Dr. Sam and her team have hosted sharing circles with Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth under 18, hearing about their experiences online and soliciting feedback on the app design and their perspective on cyberbullying.

“I find youth don’t use ‘cyberbullying’ language,” says Dr. Sam. “‘So-and-so is mean to me online’ is how they often characterized it. We asked them to tell us the story about it and how they overcame that. We also showed screenshots of a survey to be delivered on an app and asked how we could make this more youth-friendly.”

Dr. Sam and her team at C.I.R.C.L.E want to expand their research with their blended Two-Eyed methodology while properly compensating Indigenous youth for their participation. Doing so will require crucial donor support.

“It’s the capacity. It’s the people,” says Dr. Sam. “Funding support would help us build capacity to do this work because right now, this type of work with Indigenous community partnerships are underfunded. We need to fairly compensate research in Indigenous communities to be able to partner with Indigenous leadership, Knowledge Keepers, Elders, families and youth.”

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