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Dr. Wanda Cassidy: Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University; Director, Centre for Education, Law & Society


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2014/04/01

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside?  How do you find this influencing your development?

My mother’s background is Swedish– from northern Sweden, near the Arctic Circle. My grandfather came to Canada and set up a homestead in Alberta.  His wife and their oldest five children – my mother had not yet been born – were scheduled to follow two years later, on the Titanic…seriously!  My grandfather didn’t know that the Titanic was overbooked and his family had to take a later boat; instead, he thought they were lost. Of course, communication was poor in those days.

My father’s background is Irish, English, and Scottish.  His grandparents immigrated to Nova Scotia, with 3 of the children (my grandfather being one), later moving west to Saskatchewan, where my grandfather made a living as a professional boxer. (Laughs). Apparently, he never lost a fight and won most matches by knock-out.  I guess, he had a bit of an Irish temper. (Laughs)

From both sets of grandparents (and from my parents), I learned the value of hard work, kindness towards others, and being adventurous. Even during the difficult days of the Depression, my maternal grandfather never turned away anyone asking for work on his farm, for food, or a place to stay. There was a generosity of spirit, which was communicated to his children and grandchildren.

2. How was your youth? How did you come to this point? What do you consider a pivotal moment?

Growing up, I always wanted to make a positive difference in the world and to help others.  Back when I was in university, not a lot of doors were open for women, and I did not have a lot of professional roles models. For example, among my 73 first cousins, I am the only one who went on to do a doctorate. Because I loved teaching and enjoyed working with young people, I followed in my mother’s footsteps and became a teacher.  When I was offered the job, I was asked, “Would you like to teach Law 12 as part of your teaching assignment?”  As a history major, I thought, “I know nothing about law, but I want the job.” (Laughs)  I said, “I will approach it as a person who knows little, but knows people who do know.”  So developed my course around a community-based curriculum, inviting many guests into my classroom and learning with the students. II received funding from the Legal Services Society to share the model I had developed, since very few Law 12 teachers had a law degree, and later was hired by this agency as their Schools Program Director.  My job was to provide curriculum resources and professional development for teachers and students in   British Columbia, to improve their overall knowledge of law.

This position was pivotal in my own career. While planning a national conference I met a professor at Simon Fraser who encouraged me to develop a program with him in the Faculty of Education.  We were able to secure funding from the Law Foundation of BC, the Real Estate Foundation, the Notary Foundation and other agencies and law firms, and began what came to be called the Centre for Education, Law & Society.

While developing the Centre (CELS), I obtained my Master’s degree in law-related education from SFU and later secured a scholarship to attend the University of Chicago, where I earned my Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction.  I returned to SFU in a professorship position, where I happily remain.

In terms of what motivates me:  I like to be creating new things, to push the boundaries of “what is” to “what could be.” I like to be challenged and seek to draw like-minded people together to advance these goals.

3. At present, you hold the position Director for the ‘Centre for Education, Law & Society’.  What responsibilities and duties does this imply? 

It is a part of my work as an Associate Professor of Education.  The centre’s mandate is to improve the legal literacy of youth and young adults, in the school system, in community settings and at the post-secondary level.  We do this through a program of research, teaching and community-based initiatives. We developed 3 undergraduate courses and recently completed our first offering of a Master’s program in justice, law, and ethics. Our research topics vary: for example, recently we completed a 4-year study on legal literacy of youth in grades 6 to 10, which focused on human rights, citizenship, identity issues and environmental sustainability.  We’ve also investigated cyberbullying in schools and at the post-secondary levels. I also helped establish a school for students who face multiple challenges in their lives and who don’t succeed in the regular public school.  I continue to be an educational consultant to this unique and highly successful school (see

My job as Director is to manage our current projects, seek additional funding for new projects, provide support to graduate students, and work with other agencies to improve the legal literacy of youth. Legal literacy involves understanding the role law plays in our society and what it means to be an informed, engaged citizen. The law can be a tool to create a society that is respectful and caring towards others, sensitive to human and civil rights, and inclusive of diversity. Legal literacy also involves knowledge of those aspects of law that affect our daily lives in a practical way, such as purchasing goods from a store, holding a job, renting a home, or getting married. It also involves an understanding of broader influences which guide our society, such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights and other UN documents.  Also, asking, “Are we implementing those basic human rights in our own society and elsewhere in the world?”  And if we are, what role can Canada play in providing for the needs and rights that all human beings should have for themselves?

4. In some recent research, you note the unfortunate global occurrence of bullying.  In particular, the existence of cyberbullying.  For readers, can you define cyberbullying?  What negative psychological, emotional, and physical consequences arise from cyberbullying for the victims and the perpetrators?

‘Cyberbullying’ is bullying through online sources such as smart phones, Facebook, e-mail, blogs or chat rooms, or any of the various technological tools at our disposal.  It involves sending harmful, derogatory, harassing, negative, sometimes repulsive – even sexual, messages or images to somebody with the intent to harm or hurt them. The impact is often quite devastating.  It can cause sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, fear, inability to concentrate, and sometimes leads to suicidal thoughts. Cyberbullying is different from face-to-face bullying in that it can be anonymous: “Where is this coming?  A friend, an acquaintance, a stranger, someone I sit next to in class, why are they doing this to me?” People are so connected online.  They open their social networking sites and see a derogatory message from someone.  How do they deal with it? Oftentimes, they cannot get rid of the message, which results in them being bullied over and over again.

Research shows that cyberbullying can start as early as age 9 or 10, extending into adolescence and dying down somewhat by age 15 or 16.   In our current study we are looking at the extent of cyberbullying at the post-secondary level, among undergraduates and towards faculty members. We were surprised to learn that approximately 1/5 of undergraduate students at the 4 universities we studied had experiencing cyberbullying from another student, and approximately the same number of faculty members had been cyberbullied either by students and/or by colleagues. These messages can be hurtful—indeed devastating– at any age.

5. Your conceptualization of ‘cyberkindness’ seems to me, in essence, digital civility, bringing civil discourse in the real world into the electronic media. 

Yes, I call the internet and other outlets for communication a ‘flat medium’, in that, they cannot convey facial expressions, body language, or tone of voice, and therefore the intent of a message may be misinterpreted. Further the sender does not see the impact a message might have on the recipient, such as they might see in face-to-face bullying. We have yet to learn more effective ways to communicate through technology.

Also, we have cyberbullying because bullying is present in the wider society, and too many are rewarded for their bullying behaviour. Politicians bully each other and sometimes seem to relish in the experience.  Countries bully each other, employers bully employees, corporations bully each other to get an edge in the market, and so on.

We need to look at what is being modelled by adults, since modelling is one of the most powerful teachers.  Young people learn not only from what they are told, but what they experience and see being modeled around them.

6. What strategies can students employ individually and collectively to reduce the occurrence and harms of cyberbullying and bullying in general?  In addition, within your recent work, you discuss the development of “cyber-kindness” and an “ethic of care”.  For readers, what is the abridged definition of this terminology, and the practical application and outcome of them?

I began researching cyberbullying because I had done research on the ethic of care and the positive impact this philosophy had on students, teachers and the school culture. When I began to investigate cyberbullying, I did not want to deal with the negative alone. I wanted to look at the notion of “cyber-kindness” and the ways in which technology could be used to communicate positive, respectful and kind messages.  This notion of care is situated within the broader philosophical worldview of Nel Nodding’s and Carol Gilligan’s work – caring being a relational ethic.  Here caring is not a ‘fuzzy’ feeling, by rather showing empathy towards the other, understanding the needs of the other, and working in the other’s best interests.

Schools that embrace the ethic of care have less bullying and cyberbullying, because they focus on relationships, empathy and the understanding of others.  For example, a couple of years ago, we worked with a school where five grade 7 girls were actively cyberbullying each other with really nasty comments on a social networking site.  The principal, rather than suspending them, saw their leadership potential and re-directed the negative energy they had towards each other into working on productive projects at the school.  She met with them once a week and, as the discussions unfolded, they apologized to each other about the hurtful messages they had been sending. They stopped these negative interchanges, but more importantly, ended up contributing to the school, and influencing the culture of the whole school.  Their enthusiasm for doing positive things was infectious and spilled over to the other grades as well.

What this principal demonstrated is that it is important to address the root causes of cyberbullying, not just the symptoms (i.e. the behaviour).

7. In a hypothetical perfect world with plenty of funding and time, and if guaranteed an answer, what single topic would you research?

Ways to create a kinder world, how do we change the ‘human being’ to become more respectful and kinder to one another? I am somewhat of a utopian in this regard.

Perhaps we can start by getting to know our neighbour, and by this, I mean getting to know others outside of our circle or enclave.  Entering into a dialogue, listening to others and learning from others.  A kinder world would be a more peaceful world and a happier world.

8. If any, what responsibility do academics and researchers have for contributing to society and culture?

I believe we have a 100% responsibility to share our knowledge.  Further, our research should connect with real issues facing the world.  We not only have a responsibility to research important issues, but to also communicate our findings to the wider public. In my own work, I try to focus on areas that will benefit society. Also, I engage with the media and the public to bring an academic perspective to issues.  For example, everyone has an opinion on cyberbullying, but we need to situate this discussion within the research.  We should not develop policy based on opinion.   It is important for academics, policy makers, government, the media and the public to work collaboratively to solve social problems.

9. Who most influenced you? Why them?  Can you recommend any books or articles by them?

There are many, many people who influenced me, but I’ll just mention a few.  My parents, of course.  Also four particular women.  A pastor’s wife when I was a teenager who made me feel that I was important and that my opinion was valued, even though I was young; she listened attentively, asked gentle but probing questions, and encouraged me to find my future.

Anna York, a friend I met when studying at the University of Chicago.  Although she struggled with MS, she was always authentic, a real person with depth, honesty and integrity. Her book, Rising Up!, documents her physical and spiritual journey into health.

Another woman I have known for years, Doreen, who now lives in Texas. She has experienced many challenges and setbacks in life, but is always positive, hopeful, with a deep faith that plays out in the practice of her life. She has always been there for me, when I’ve faced my own struggles and challenges.

Finally, I must mention the impact my daughter has had on my life.

Having a child has taught me so much — to be wise in what I share with her, to model what I feel is important in life, to have that wonderful opportunity — indeed a gift — to influence someone so inquisitive and open to learn.  Being given the gift of motherhood has caused me over and over again to re-evaluate my priorities and to consider what is important in life.  Probably more than anyone else in my life, just as I’ve influenced her, she has influenced me and now that she is a young adult, she continues to surprise me with her insights, her creativity, her commitments, and her wisdom.

10. Please elaborate on a point made earlier about ‘building a culture of compassion’, and focusing on the important things in life and in one’s work.

We are all busy.  There are too many things to distract us.  We need to be constantly reflecting on ‘who we are’ and, maybe this sounds trite, on our purpose in life.  In other words, asking ourselves, “What difference do we want to make in the world?”  It could be just influencing one person.  We do not need to look ‘big’ in that sense.  If someone helps one child, it may be just as significant as what Mother Theresa or or Nelson Mandela accomplished.  We all come to that point in our lives where we ask the question, “Why am I here?  Why are we here?  What am I doing?” Reflecting on these big questions of life, helps us focus and work towards goals that matters.

11. What worries and hopes do you have for the educational settings of the Lower Mainland, Canada, and international settings regarding bullying and cyberbullying?

I worry about people gravitating to quick-fixes.–buy this program, bring it into the schools, and it will solve the problem of bullying or cyberbullying.  This approach is not effective.  Rather, we need to do the hard work of building relationships and working on the root causes of negative behaviour. This also involves each one of us examining our own behaviour.

Another worry is that people will think, “Bullying has always been with us, just deal with it.” This is not helpful to the victim nor does it show empathy.  I’d like to think we can reduce incidents of bullying/cyberbullying rather than merely “learning to live with it.”


1)  Agatston, P., Kowalski, R., & Limber, S. (2012). Youth views on cyberbullying. In J. W. Patchin, S. Hinduja (Eds.) , Cyberbullying prevention and response: Expert perspectives (pp. 57-71). New York, NY US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

2)  Beck, K. & Cassidy, W. (2009). Embedding the ethic of care in school policies and practices. In K. te Riele (Ed.) Making schools different: Alternative approaches to educating young people (Chap. 6), pp. 50-64, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

3)  Brown, K., Jackson, M., & Cassidy, W. (2006). Cyber-bullying: Developing policy to direct responses that are equitable and effective in addressing this special form of bullying. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, Issue 57.

4)  Cassidy, W. (2006).  From zero tolerance to a culture of care, Journal of Safe Management of Disruptive and Assaultive Behavior: Special Edition on School Safety, Fall 2006, 22-26.

5)  Cassidy, W., Faucher, C., & Jackson, M. (2013).  Cyberbullying among youth: A comprehensive review of    current international research and its implications and application to policy and practice, by invitation, in special international issue of School Psychology International, 34(6), 575-612.

6)  Cassidy, W., Faucher, C., & Jackson, M. (2013).  An essential library of international research in cyberbullying, by invitation, introduction to SAGE special collection of articles published by School Psychology International. [virtual special edition, published online with accompanying podcast by C. Faucher]

7)  Cassidy, W., Brown, K., & Jackson, M. (2012). ‘Making kind cool’: Parents’ suggestions for preventing cyber-bullying and fostering cyber-kindness.  Journal of Educational Computing Research, 46(4), 415-436.

8)  Cassidy, W., Brown, K., & Jackson, M. (2012). ‘Under the radar’: Educators and cyberbullying in schools. School Psychology International, 33(5), 520-532. Doi:  10.1177/0143034312445245

9)  Cassidy, W., Brown, K., & Jackson, M. (2011). Moving from cyber-bullying to cyber-kindness: What do students, educators and parents say? In Dunkels, E., Franberg, G.-M., & Hallgren, C. (Eds)  Youth culture and net culture: Online social practices (pp. 256-277).  Hershey, NY: Information Science Reference.

10)  Cassidy, W. & Chinnery, A. (2009). Learning from indigenous education. In K. te Riele (Ed.) Making

schools different: Alternative approaches to educating young people (Chap. 15), pp. 135-143, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

11)  Cassidy, W., Jackson, M., & Brown, K. (2009). Sticks and stones can break my bones, but how can pixels hurt me? Students’ experiences with cyber-bullying. School Psychology International, 30(4), 383-402.

12)  Centre for Education, Law & Society (2014). Center for Education, Law & Society. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved February 18, 2014, from

13)  Faculty of Education (2014). Dr. Wanda Cassidy. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved February, 2014, from

14)  Faucher, C., Jackson, M., & Cassidy, W. (in press). When on-line exchanges byte: An examination of the policy environment governing cyberbullying at the university level. Canadian Journal of Higher Education.

15)  Gilligan, Carol (1982). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

16)  Jackson, M., Cassidy, W. & Brown, K. (2009). Out of the mouth of babes: Students’ voice their opinions on cyber-bullying. Long Island Education Review, 8(2), 24-30.

17)  Jackson, M., Cassidy, W., & Brown, K. N. (2009). “you were born ugly and youl die ugly too”: Cyberbullying as relational aggression. In Education, 15(2).

18)  Kowalski, R. M., Morgan, C. A., & Limber, S. P. (2012). Traditional Bullying as a Potential Warning Sign of Cyberbullying. School Psychology International, 33(5), 505-519.

19)  Noddings, Nel.  Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

20)  Noddings, Nel.  The Challenge to Care in Schools. New York: Teachers College Press, 1992.

21)  Noddings, Nel. “Excellence as a Guide to Educational Conversation.” Teachers College Record, 94(4) (1993): 730-743.

22)  Noddings, Nel.  Educating Moral People: A caring alternative to character education. New York: Teachers College Press, 2002.

23)  Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2012). Cyberbullying: An update and synthesis of the research. In J. W. Patchin, S. Hinduja (Eds.) , Cyberbullying prevention and response: Expert perspectives (pp. 13-35). New York, NY US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

24)  SFUNews (2014). Symposium: Cyberbullying at Canadian Universities. Simon Fraser University. Retrieved February, 2014, from

25)  Smith, P. K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., & Tippett, N. (2008). Cyberbullying: its nature and impact in secondary school pupils. Journal Of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 49(4), 376-385. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01846.x

26)  Smith, P. K., & Slonje, R. (2010). Cyberbullying: The nature and extent of a new kind of bullying, in and out of school. In S. R. Jimerson, S. M. Swearer, D. L. Espelage (Eds.), Handbook of bullying in schools: An international perspective (pp. 249-262). New York, NY US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

27)  Topcu, C., & Erdur-Baker, O. (2012). Affective and Cognitive Empathy as Mediators of Gender Differences in Cyber and Traditional Bullying. School Psychology International, 33(5), 550-561.Vandebosch, H., & Van Cleemput, K. (2007). Cyber Bullying Among Youngsters. Conference Papers — International Communication Association, 1.

28)  von Marées, N., Petermann, F., Kowalski, R., Morgan, C., & Limber, S. (2012). Traditional bullying as a potential warning sign of cyberbullying. School Psychology International, 33(5), 505-519.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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