Disproportionality in Out-Of-School Suspensions (OSS) is a persistent social justice issue. Yet many public schools persist in using OSS despite its ineffectiveness in changing behaviors (Losen, 2011) and negative outcomes such as entry into the juvenile justice system (Skiba et al., 2006). The focus of research in OSS has been on Black boys, but there is increasing concern with the vulnerability of Black girls. Black girls are suspended at a rate six times higher than white girls, while Black boys are suspended three times higher than white boys (U.S. Department of Education, 2014). Black girls commonly experience micro-aggression including negative gendered and racial insults (Sue, 2007). They also experience early sexualization that parallels stereotypic images of Black women as hypersexual, angry, and hostile. Given socially constructed gender and race roles, it is unsurprising that some educators trivialize girls’ resistance or punish them for defending themselves (Wun, 2016). Such responses can contribute to Black girls’ disproportionate experiences of OSS. Guided by intersectionality (Davis, 2010) and Black feminist theory (Collins, 2000), this study examines racial and gender disproportionality in OSS focusing on the experience of Black girls.
The current research employs a multi-strand, sequential mixed methods design with an emphasis on the quantitative component for the primary purpose of enhanced understanding (Haight & Bidwell, 2016). We utilized cross-system statewide administrative data for the quantitative component and interviewed 10 Black girls aged 11 and 15 who were suspended from school, their 10 caregivers, and 5 educators for the qualitative component. We addressed four research questions: (1) To what extent are there any disproportionalities in OSS across race and gender? (2) What are the experiences of OSS of Black girls, their caregivers and educators, especially the intersection of race and gender? (3) To what extent are there any disparities in the severity of disciplinary actions imposed during OSS across race and gender? (4) What are some of the ways Black girls resist sexual harassment, bullying and OSS?
Our quantitative results indicated that Black girls (Disproportionality Index or DI: 3.2) were over represented in OSS relative to white (DI: 0.2), Asian (DI: 0.2), Hispanic girls (DI: 1.1,), and Native girls (DI: 2.1). Quantitative analyses also indicated that Black girls were more harshly sanctioned than Black boys and white boys and girls for disruptive and disorderly behaviors (F(3,646)=23.16, p=.000) and violent behaviors (F(3,1462)=25.16, p=.000). Consistent with the quantitative results, participants in the qualitative interviews described Black girls as more harshly disciplined than white girls for the same infractions. Additionally, some participants described some educators as trivializing Black girls’ experiences of sexual harassment and bullying. Finally, Black girls described their resistance to sexual harassment and bullying. They described forcefully defending themselves from those experiences, enlisted parents’ help with educators, and developed communities of other Black girls and trusted adults at school.
Conclusions and implications
Schools can support girls in transforming their self-advocacy behaviors into more effective, collective strategies for responding when being ignored, silenced, and treated unfairly by those in positions of power.