Abstract: (WITHDRAWN) Confronting Racial Injustice in K-12 Education: Implications for School Social Work Practice & Research (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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(WITHDRAWN) Confronting Racial Injustice in K-12 Education: Implications for School Social Work Practice & Research

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Erin Sugrue, PhD, Assistant Professor, Augsburg University, Minneapolis, MN
Ashley-Marie Hanna Daftary, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, NV
Background and Purpose

Racism and racial injustice have been central elements of the structures, policies, and practices in the U.S. public education system since its inception. The influence and persistence of racism in the context of K-12 education suggests a particularly critical need for school social workers and other education professionals committed to educational justice to confront and change beliefs, practices, and policies that perpetrate racial oppression.

In his classic work, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, the late economist Albert Hirschman (1970) identified the two main responses that members of organizations use when they believe an organization or its leaders are acting in ways that they oppose. The first option is “exit” — leaving the organization. The second option is “voice” — speaking out about their concerns in an attempt to create positive change. Applying Hirschman’s theory to the education context, Levinson (2015) has argued that K-12 professionals are well-positioned to exercise voice in order to address oppression and promote social justice in their schools. Research on how educators engage in discourse to directly confront racist practices and policies in their schools is limited. This paper presents an initial exploration of this crucial topic by addressing the following question: How do K-12 professionals exercise voice with their colleagues and supervisors to challenge racially oppressive ideologies and practices in their schools?


Using purposeful sampling, twenty-five K-12 professionals with anti-oppressive orientations participated in individual interviews. Measures included a demographic survey and semi-structured interview protocol. Transcripts from the interviews were uploaded to Atlas.ti (v. 8.4.3) and data was analyzed using Deterding & Waters’ (2018) flexible coding approach.


Participants primarily described using cautious, covert, and indirect approaches to confronting White colleagues (who in all cases were identified as the perpetrators of racist beliefs and practices). These approaches were chosen based on participants’ beliefs that an indirect approach would increase the likelihood that their messages would be received and decrease the personal and professional consequences they might face for openly challenging their colleagues’ racist beliefs or actions. Although both White participants and Participants of Color cited concerns about potential consequences due to speaking out, only Participants of Color had actually experienced consequences in their previous attempts to address racism among colleagues. Two participants spoke of taking a direct approach with colleagues, which they believed was effective because of their existing social capital and their consistency in their messaging.


This study illustrates the fine line many K-12 professionals walk as they attempt to confront racial oppression among their colleagues while also preserving their relationships with them. However, the power of racial injustice and oppression renders it unlikely that a cautious voice, no matter how well-intentioned, will truly result in change. These findings suggest the need for a specific research agenda for school social work which centers questions of how anti-racist and anti-oppressive practices can be effectively enacted throughout the K-12 education system.