Student researchers study the effects of cyberbullying

For the past year, a small room on the fifth floor of the Education Classroom Building consisting of two statistical-software filled computers, filing cabinets and desks has served as a research lab for CSUF students Selena Cartznes and Fardusa Ismail and assistants researching cyberbullying in depth.

“Our lab is a very fun place to be. It’s work definitely, we don’t sit there and chit-chat all day. We do a lot of work in there, but it’s a very home-y feeling,” Ismail said.

Ismail, a CHAD senior, wife and mother, took an introductory child development course with Associate professor Guadalupe Espinoza who briefly mentioned her research project to the class. Ismail visited Espinoza’s office hours to learn more about the project.

Initially, Ismail didn’t ask Espinoza to be her research assistant because she was unsure of herself as a returning adult student, Ismail said. Toward the end of the semester, Espinoza emailed Ismail about an opening in the lab and Ismail accepted.

“I read that email and I cried. I was at home and I literally cried because (I’m) still not sure of myself and I thought to myself, ‘I am a mess’ but (Espinoza) sees something in me and she thinks I can do it,” Ismail said.

Ismail said she considers herself Somali-American, therefore, the research means a lot to her because such groups are not normally represented.

Cartznes and Ismail competed in the 31st annual California State University Student Research Competition in San Luis Obispo April 28 and presented in front of a panel regarding how personal and witnessed cyberbullying affects Latino adolescents.

Espinoza, the faculty mentor for the pair, began studying school bullying experiences as an undergraduate at San Diego State University. She noticed that bullying behavior was prominent online as well, which is when she focused on cyberbullying specifically.

As a student, Espinoza conducted research about bullying at schools which were made up of predominantly Latino students. She said she continues to focus on Latino youth because there isn’t a lot of research available on Latinos and their peer relationships.

Cartznes, a fourth-year child and adolescent development (CHAD) major, became interested in conducting research after taking a research methods course, she said. She reached out to Espinoza, applied to be a research assistant and was accepted.

“In this day and age, it’s impossible for kids to go through life without going on the computer or going on their phones so I thought it was something that really needed to be studied,” Cartznes said. “I thought it was really interesting, (but) I’ve never actually been bullied myself.”

Cartznes and Ismail met in fall 2016 but were paired together this semester because their schedules overlapped, Cartznes said.

Espinoza said she connected with two middle schools in Orange County and went with her research assistants to collect data from students.

On their first visit, Cartznes and Ismail explained to the students on separate visits who they were, why they were there and told the students the benefits of participating in their research, Ismail said.

“We tried to get the students excited about what we were doing,” Ismail said. “We let them know that if they participate, they had to fill something out on the first time we were there, (and) they got a dollar for that.”

After students agreed to participate and turned in permission slips from their parents, they were asked to fill out daily surveys for a week about how they felt at school, interacting with their teachers and parents, and if they have ever seen or heard someone say a “mean” comment toward someone else.

If students filled out every survey, they received $8 in total, Ismail said.

As a new faculty member, Espinoza received startup funds which were mainly used to fund the research project, Espinoza said. The Titan Shops also donated items to raffle off to get students excited about the idea of college.

The main finding of the research is if a student is being cyberbullied and witnesses someone else being cyberbullied, their classroom engagement is not as bad as if they were just being bullied on their own, Cartznes said.

“Seeing other people going through what you’re going through helps,” Cartznes said.

Cartznes and Ismail gathered data from both schools, then organized, coded, entered and verified the data collected from the adolescents, Ismail said. After the data was analyzed, Cartznes and Ismail presented what they learned in front of a panel at CSUF.

Associate professor Nathalie Carrick, Faculty Fellow for the Student Creative Activities and Research on campus, worked with Cartznes and Ismail to perfect their presentation by looking at PowerPoint slides, watching them present and providing feedback.

“They really wanted to learn how to present, so working with them and giving them some suggestions was really easy and a complete pleasure,” Carrick said.

Cartznes and Ismail were among 15 finalists chosen to present at the CSU Research Competition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. They did not place in the final competition, but received a certificate for their participation, Ismail said.

Both students said they left the competition feeling happy, proud and excited to see what other students are studying.

“I am impressed by how quickly they really kind of took ownership over this research project. They understand the method, they understand the results. I’m very proud of them, that they’re putting in a big-time commitment on top of being full-time students,” Espinoza said.