This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Nickerson to head bullying center

  • Amanda Nickerson

Published: June 16, 2011

The Graduate School of Education has named Amanda Nickerson as director of its high-profile Jean M. Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence.

Nickerson, a former University at Albany associate professor and program director of school psychology, plans to turn UB into a national or international “go-to” place for the latest research and advice on bullying.

“Bullying and school violence have received increasing attention by legislators, researchers and the general public,” says Nickerson, a licensed psychologist and expert in school crisis prevention and intervention, with an emphasis on violence and bullying.

“However, efforts to prevent and intervene with these challenging situations are often fragmented. Having a national center housed at a premier research institution such as the University at Buffalo is an exciting opportunity to have a centralized place to generate and disseminate knowledge about best practices in this area.”

Nickerson’s appointment ends a nationwide, yearlong search for someone to lead the anti-bullying center, a research center that has attracted much interest. Nickerson, mother of two children, will move from Albany to the Buffalo area this summer.

“We are delighted to welcome a scholar of Dr. Nickerson’s stature to the Graduate School of Education, says Mary H. Gresham, dean of the Graduate School of Education. “Not only is her work on bullying widely respected among researchers in this field, she is committed to making a difference through her work.

“Dr. Nickerson is actively involved in the national conversation on this topic, and her experience in working with practitioners and the lay public made her the ideal choice for this inaugural appointment.”

Nickerson calls herself “truly passionate” about promoting positive and healthy school environments where bullying, harassment and other types of abuse can be prevented. She has conducted numerous research studies on related topics, with a focus on the role of parents and peers in prevention and intervention efforts.

“There are still so many unanswered questions,” Nickerson says. “And I am dedicated to advancing the pursuit of knowledge in this area by collaborating with other faculty members at UB and other universities, as well as graduate students and our partners working in schools and other settings that serve children, youth and families.”

The center was founded following the largest gift in the Graduate School of Education’s history from Jean M. Alberti, a clinical and educational psychologist based in Chicago, former local elementary teacher and UB alumna. One of the main goals of the center is to promote effective and research-driven methods to stop bullying and help victims, known as “best practices.”

Although this message continually will be updated based on national research, the new director said there are clear guidelines for people to follow when they encounter bullying.

“I think it is important for children (and their parents) to know that they are not alone and that they should not have to tolerate abusive behavior from others,” Nickerson says. “Parents should listen to their child and take action by contacting the school and reporting it.”

Nickerson says helping children find peer support is also critical.

“Peers witness bullying interactions about 85 percent of the time, but they rarely intervene,” says Nickerson, who cited “wonderful” organizations and community resources available to help children and families with the challenges they face. “And parents should have no hesitation in seeking these out.

“For parents who suspect or are made aware that their child is bullying others, I would encourage them to resist the urge to deny that this is occurring and seek out ways to actively work with the child to teach him or her that this is not acceptable behavior,” she says.

Nickerson urges parents to be vigilant about ways that children treat each other, starting at a very young age. They should be aware of “teachable moments” to get across what behaviors are acceptable and what are not.

“As children get older, parents should talk openly with their children about ways to stand up for someone being bullied and how to seek help,” she says. “Even as children enter the challenging adolescent years, they still need parents to be involved in their lives and to guide them in making good choices and treating others respectfully.”

Nickerson acknowledges the increasing attention bullying has received throughout the country and internationally. She says there is no research to suggest bullying behavior is on the rise. Instead, the most recent and credible data show bullying is surprisingly consistent across different cultures and countries.

What is different is the methods of bullying, she says, with cyberbullying being a particularly prominent example.

Alberti says she’s delighted that the center that bears her name will have such a highly qualified person as its first director. “I’m looking forward to meeting her in the near future to hear of her plans for the center and share my ideas with her,” she says.

She hopes the center will find ways to reach bullying victims besides traditional academic channels.

“We have to go beyond academia, into the media,” she says, “because, I believe, the media—computer games, video games and others—are one of the reasons for the increase in bullying and violence.”

Nickerson, a native of West Hartford, Conn., attended Bates, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1994. She worked at the Devereux Foundation, a large, private, mental health organization serving children and families with mental health needs for two years, then earned her doctorate in school psychology from the University of South Carolina.

Nickerson and her husband, Brian Nishiyama, who will working for UB in Enterprise Infrastructure Services, an administrative computing department, will move to Western New York with their two sons, ages 6 and 10.