Predicting Feelings of School Safety for Lower, Middle, and Upper School Students: A Gender Specific Analysis

Ronet Bachman, University of Delaware
Whitney D. Gunter, Western Michigan University
Nicholas W. Bakken, University of Wisconsin - La Crosse


Though the literature is making advances in the study of fear for the general population, we still know very little about adolescent’s perceptions of fear in the school setting. Moreover, the existing literature has primarily examined fear among older adolescents, and has not provided gender-sensitive analyses when exploring the factors related to fear. In this paper, we examine both the individual and contextual factors that predict male and female students’ feelings of safety for 5th, 8th, and 11th graders who attend public schools in the state of Delaware. Previous victimization experiences were the most consistent predictor of fear for all grades regardless of gender. At the school level, students attending schools with higher rates of expulsion and suspension were also more fearful than students attending schools with lower rates of these sanctions. Importantly, all students who attended schools where rules were communicated and enforced fairly were less likely to perceive fear, net of the other individual and contextual level factors. Other variables including alcohol/drug availability had relationships with fear that vary across age and gender groups. These findings and their implications for policy are discussed.