Abstract: Insistently Enduring: Stories of Young African American Women Traversing Oppression within Public High Schools (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

222P Insistently Enduring: Stories of Young African American Women Traversing Oppression within Public High Schools

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
J Lloyd Allen, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Jessica Nobile, PhD, MSW, LISW, Assistant Professor, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH
Background and Purpose: Young African American women living in an institutionally racist, sexist, and classist society often encounter unique psychosocial and educational challenges. In many instances, they are targeted at the intersection of race, class, and gender as they are frequently treated differently due to pejorative views of African American girls held by some of their White educators. These views result in higher rates of suspension, expulsion, and involvement in the juvenile justice system. For example, in the 2011-2012 school year, 12% of African American girls in comparison to 6% of Hispanic females and 2% of European American females faced expulsion from schools. These statistics are alarming, and they provide some justification for the need for educational reform to ensure equitable treatment of young African American women within their educational environments.

Methods: Critical narrative inquiry recognizes how individuals’ experiences are influenced by oppressive macrosocial systems. As a framework, it acknowledges the power study participants hold, engages in dialogues with participants to establish an equal partnership, and uses the research to ignite social change. As a method, it seeks to describe lived experiences of oppression through storytelling. Twelve participants (4 young women from three different high schools in one district) were asked about their encounters with educational discrimination. Participants shared their experiences in two semi-structured interviews. Data were transcribed verbatim, and participants were asked to review their interviews for accuracy. Next, interviews were analyzed using Atlas.ti qualitative software.

Results: Participants described the juxtaposition of race and gender biases within their school environments. There were variations across schools, in the degree of severity regarding intersecting forms of oppression; nonetheless systematic racism and sexism marked each of these young women’s high school educational experiences. For example, racism was noted as prevalent at all three schools but was explained as more severe at Alice Walker High School, due to the employment of a graduation coach, who told two participants of this study to drop out of high school along with other students of African American descent. At Maya Angelou High School, a participant described a time when a student was suspended by a teacher for wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. The degree of sexism also varied, as there was a reported sexual assault during school hours at Lucille Clifton High School that garnered news attention. While gendered expectations composed much of the sexism described at the other two high schools.

Conclusion and Implications: Findings of this study supported past research, as racial and gender oppression was present in the educational environments of all participants. Due to the racially disparate, and often sexist nature of public-school education, culturally sensitive and evidence-based training of teachers, counselors, librarians, health care professionals, and other school personnel is needed to improve interactions with youth of color and their family members. This is an area where school social workers, in particular, can positively help reform educational environments as they often act as the bridge between the school, families, and communities.