Abstract: Investigating Disciplinary Risk in Urban High Schools As a Precursor for Suicide-Related Behaviors Among Black Students (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Investigating Disciplinary Risk in Urban High Schools As a Precursor for Suicide-Related Behaviors Among Black Students

Friday, January 13, 2023
South Mountain, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Sonyia Richardson, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC
John Williams, PhD, Assistant Professor in Multicultural Education, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
Background and Purpose

Despite the proliferation of research investigating school disciplinary outcomes (suspensions) for Black students, researchers have been relatively silent on exploring the impact of these outcomes on adverse health behaviors - more specifically suicide outcomes. According to the 2018 report from the Office of Civil Rights Data collection [OCRD], Black children are the highest recipient of out-of-school suspensions (OSS). Concomitantly, a review of suicide data for Black adolescents indicates significant increases for this population over the last two decades. Thus, this exploratory research sought to explore if disciplinary risk in districts influenced suicide outcomes (i.e., consideration, plan, or attempt) for Black high school adolescents in the United States.


The data used for this study was obtained from the most recent datasets with the OCRD, Center for Statistics Common Core Database, and YRBS. The final sample included 19,934 high school Black adolescents in seven urban school districts. The risk index (RI) was calculated for OSSs for each school and then used to construct a mean RI for the school district. RIs are calculated by dividing the number of students who received a disciplinary sanction by the total number of students in that group. The dependent variables for this research study were binary and included suicide consideration, planning, and attempts. All data were screened and analyzed using STATA 16.0 software and there were no assumptions violated. A Pearson correlation was conducted, with the RI for Black boys and girls inserted as the predictor variables, followed by school support personnel. Finally, dependent variables were added.

Results: The percentage of Black boys who received an OSS was five percent, whereas four percent of Black girls received an OSS. With regard to responses to questions pertaining to suicide, Black girls had higher indications that they either considered (.21), planned (.20), or attempted suicide (.13) than Black boys. For Black boys, the association between the predictor variable (RI) and the dependent variables regarding suicide was nonexistent. The correlational results reveal that for Black girls, there was a weak positive association between the predictor variable of RI, suicide consideration (r = .05, p < .001), and attempts (r = .07, p < .001) and a weak negative association between creating a plan. Essentially, for Black girls, an increased chance of receiving an OSS contributes, although small, to them considering suicide and attempting suicide.

Conclusion and Implications

Our research suggests that Black students, specifically girls, are potentially harmed by the adverse effects of school discipline. As suicide rates for Black youth have been documented as a national public health crisis, our findings are an immediate call for research and action to advance social change. The fixation on school disciplinary outcomes and involvement with the criminal justice system has failed to take into account how these children may be burdened with suicidality. Thus, the more immediate focus should be on how we protect them and help them to maintain hope. Sustaining their lives is the priority; helping them to maintain hope and thrive is our obligation.