Abstract: Pathways to out-of-School Suspensions for Black Girls (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Pathways to out-of-School Suspensions for Black Girls

Sunday, January 20, 2019: 11:30 AM
Union Square 25 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Priscilla Gibson, PhD, Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Ndilimeke Nashandi, MDev, Student-Doctoral, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St Paul, MN
Wendy Haight, PhD, Professor and Gamble Skogmo Chair, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Background: Racial disparities in out-of-school suspensions (OSS) are a persistent social justice issue. Many public schools persist in using suspensions as a standard practice for responding to students’ misbehaviors even though they are largely ineffective in deterring these behaviors and can negatively affect children’s well-being, health and academic achievement. Black students bear the brunt of these negative consequences even though they are no more likely than other groups of students to engage in unsafe or rule breaking behaviors at school. Rather, they are more harshly disciplined than White students for the same misbehaviors. Although the suspension of Black boys has been an issue of concern, less attention has focused on Black girls. Nationally, Black boys are suspended at a rate three times higher than the rate for White boys, but Black girls are suspended at a rate six times higher than the rate for White girls. This research uses a Black Feminist lens to examine the research question: What is the experience of OSS for Black girls?

Methods: The site of this study was a large, urban school in the Midwest. Caregivers and educators of all Black students (aged 11-17) who received an OSS during the 2012-2013 school year were referred by school administrators. Eleven parents of girls with suspensions, their girls and educators agreed to participate. Researchers conducted in-depth, semi-structured, individual interviews in a private location in participants’ homes or schools. Interviews were audiotaped and lasted an average of 30 minutes. They were conversation-like and began with story starters such as, “Tell me what happened to cause your (your child’s/ student’s) suspension?” Interviews were transcribed verbatim. Transcriptions were read repeatedly to induce a coding scheme that captured participants’ experiences of the OSS. Two co-authors independently coded transcribed interviews.  Disagreements were resolved through discussion.

 Results: In contrast to educators, girls and their parents described the behaviors for which girls were suspended as resulting primarily from a break down in relationships with adults at school. Many girls characterized educators as viewing them negatively and behaving towards them in ways discrepant with their self-perceptions and experiences in their communities. They described experiences of educators ignoring or minimizing their calls for help, especially around issues of verbal harassment, as “Black girl drama”.  Black girls also described a policing of their physical appearances, expressiveness of their communications and silencing of their voices. They also described protective factors such as parents, teachers and a community of other Black girls who encouraged positive behaviors.

 Conclusions: From a Black feminist perspective, these results suggest that Black girls are pathologized in school in ways that undermine their psychosocial development and educational success. These data are consistent with the literature indicating that Black girls are subjected to multiple forms of oppression. They also illuminate Black girls’ self-awareness and critical consciousness concerning the intersection of racism and sexism, and their resistance to it. By focusing on Black girls we provide missing data foundational to prevention and intervention efforts to effectively addressing the persistent problem of racial disparities in out-of-school suspensions.