Abstract: Disproportionate Exposure to Adversity Among Students Who Are Disciplinarily Excluded (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Disproportionate Exposure to Adversity Among Students Who Are Disciplinarily Excluded

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Jane Sanders, Doctoral Candidate, University of Toronto
Background: Students who are Black or Indigenous, have learning concerns, are male, or from lower income households/communities are disproportionately suspended or expelled from school (disciplinary exclusion). Disciplinary exclusion is related to school dropout, subsequent suspension, ongoing behaviour concerns, arrest, and incarceration. Disciplinary exclusion is therefore an important factor in disproportionate academic outcomes, disparate entry into post-secondary education and criminal justice, ultimately propelling the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources. Multiply-marginalized students are also disproportionately exposed to violence and adversity; however this adversity is rarely critically or explicitly considered for students who have been suspended or expelled.

The objective of this constructivist grounded theory study was to understand the experiences of students who have been disciplinarily excluded. The following research questions were addressed: 1) What are the experiences of students? 2) What systemic factors (school, community, family) have positively or negatively influenced their personal and academic success?

Method: Participants were recruited through exclusion/suspension classrooms in two school boards in Ontario, Canada in 2018/2019. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted individually with students (n=15) and interdisciplinary staff (n=16). Student participants were aged 14-19, most were male (n=11), Black (n=10), and had an Individual Education Plan (n=9). University and school board ethics approval was obtained.

Results: The findings revealed extremely high exposure to expanded forms of adversity, including school/community/peer violence and systemic inequality (racism/poverty) influencing students’ academics; “all that shit outside of school...I get into school I’m always still in that mindset”. However staff recognized that these experiences were rarely acknowledged, “I don't think we really recognize or acknowledge... some of the experiences they go through”. Students felt that schools were scared to ask them how they are doing, blocking connection and understanding, potentially limiting acknowledgement of adversity and effectively leaving students on their own to cope with safety concerns; “I think it’s just...how people are seeing you... it’s like, all bad communities, they feel like all the bad stuff comes on young boys, [students of] colour, and stuff...it’s like teachers were scared to ask them how they’re feeling because it’s how they dress, how they speak, how they do stuff.

Conclusions/Implications: School social work must critically attend to the disproportionate exposure to adversity for students who are disciplinarily excluded. This must include expanded forms of adversity including systemic racism and inequality and neighbourhood and school violence. Social identities are imposed on certain students based on biased perspectives of race and social location. Student’s experiences and coping strategies are interpreted, through a White, middle class, privileged world view. When adversity is unacknowledged for certain groups of students, they are left to cope independently and biased perspectives remain unexamined. Moreover, policy changes that reduce overall exclusion insufficiently address disproportion. School social work must incorporate critical reflection, be both trauma-informed and culturally aware/responsive, focus on connection, and address resource limitations that disproportionately impact students to support students who are disproportionately impacted by expanded ACEs and disproportionately disciplinarily excluded.