Sociologist helps anti-bullying messages reach the right ears

Virginia Tech’s Anthony Peguero is helping guide a multi-platform campaign to combat bullying for the Cartoon Network (CN) called “Stop Bullying: Speak Up.” 

Known for what is “cool and new,” CN is home to kid shows and teen pleasers such as “Level Up,” “Incredible Crew,” “Regular Show,” and “The Amazing World of Gumball.”

Peguero, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, has been instrumental in developing CN’s approach to bullying as a member of its advisory board. The CN website, for example, features videos in multiple languages, comics rich in messaging, parental tip sheets, and blogs and educator guides on all manners of bullying.


Anthony Peguero As part of his work with the Cartoon Network, Assistant Professor Anthony Peguero looks for ways to add anti-bullying messages into scripts.

“This has been an incredible opportunity for how we can most broadly get good and effective information out and reach a broad audience,” Peguero said.

He also reviews network scripts, searching for ways to inject messaging about bullying while respecting the need to keep a cartoon entertaining and engaging for its audience. He must balance the art and creativity of the cartoonist and the fiscal bottom line of the executives to make subtle statements about bullying in the narratives.


The homepage of the Cartoon Network's "Stop Bullying: Speak Up" campaign The homepage of the Cartoon Network's "Stop Bullying: Speak Up" campaign is bright and fun for children.

“I help to determine what is the most appropriate information to deliver and if it is driven by scholarship and research or by perspective and opinion,” Peguero said. He also evaluates “who’s the bully and who’s the victim.”

Beyond cartoons

“Bullying is much more complicated than kids shoving,” Peguero said. A researcher with more than 30 articles to his name, Peguero points out that bullying is not equally distributed across the population. 

“Bullying and violence happen because of who you are with regard to race, socio-economic status, immigration, LGBTQ, ability, and gender,” he said. “I focus on the inequality.”

As part of his research, Peguero visits schools and provides consultation on ways to create healthy learning environments. “Schools have an opportunity and obligation to protect youth from violence but also address school misconduct,” he said.

He encourages school systems to review policies and understand the full impact of rules. For example, in schools with zero-tolerance policies, do gum-chewing, the subjective act of “being disrespectful,” or a cafeteria brawl all lead to the same punishment or suspension? What happens if someone brings a same-sex date to a dance, he asks.

“Punishing students versus resolving an issue simply skirts the real problem,” said Peguero, who is a Fellow of the Racial Democracy, Crime and Justice Network, part of the Criminal Justice Research Center at Ohio State University. “Zero-tolerance school systems also take away administrative choices and many times there is a harsh punishment for a minor offense. There need to be multiple tools and options for administrators.”

A growing issue

Peguero said his broader research goal is “to identify patterns and trajectories and how they impact life course.”

The United States is becoming more diverse, and in in 30 years, the country’s schools will no longer serve a white majority, Peguero said. “It is critical that we empathize and engage with one another,” he said.

The return of character education programs in the schools, in which students are taught to consider citizenship and democracy, could help create a more inclusive community, he said.


Anthony Peguero Anthony Peguero grew up in New York City and dropped out of high school to go to work to help his family. He later earned his GED and four advanced degrees.

Bullying transcends the actual abuse, Peguero said. It can become a more deep-seated and emotional issue in that it can cause attendance problems and other issues, he said. “How does a child think about algebra if she is worried about her safety and well-being?”

Similarly, he said, “expulsion and suspension for offenders have long-lasting detrimental effects.” 

Peguero is the recipient of a National Institute of Justice W.E.B. DuBois Fellowship, which bestows a $100,000 award. The fellowship’s objective is “to provide talented researchers with an opportunity, early in their career, to elevate independently generated research and ideas to the level of national discussion.” Peguero is using that funding to examine social bonds across generations of immigrant families. 

The son of immigrant parents, Peguero grew up in New York City, where limited resources forced him to drop out of high school and work as a mechanic. Peguero said his family “had just enough social and economic capital to pursue a better life” in another city, where he earned his GED. He went on to earn a bachelor’s and two master degrees from Florida International University and his doctorate from the University of Miami.

As a result of his childhood experiences, he said he finds himself drawn “to examine the obstacles and hurdles that children of immigrants face.”

  • For more information on this topic, contact Jean Elliott at 540-231-5915.

A commitment to diversity

What appealed to Assistant Professor Anthony Peguero about working at Virginia Tech? “The sense of community and the commitment to service and engagement.”

The following is a sampling of how that commitment is visible on campus:

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