Abstract: Student Perceptions of Their School's Racial Climate Following Two Pandemics (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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612P Student Perceptions of Their School's Racial Climate Following Two Pandemics

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Antwan Woods, MSW, PhD Student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Samantha Bates, PhD, Assistant Professor, The Ohio State University, OH
Background and Purpose: The purpose of the current study was to explore student perceptions of their school’s racial climate using cross-sectional survey data gathered from one large, diverse middle school located in the southern region of the United States. The school targeted for our study had the highest suspension and expulsion rates amongst Black and Indigenous Youth of Color (BIYOC) in their school district before the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last two years, school leaders engaged in turnaround efforts and committed to ensuring all students feel welcome and supported in this school. In the spring of 2022, school leaders and researchers sought to explore these efforts by assessing student perceptions of their school’s racial climate.

Methods: Our sample was comprised of 158 middle school youth aged 11 to 14. In total, 86% of students in the school reported receiving free and reduced lunch (a proxy indicator of poverty). We utilized three scales to assess student perceptions, including the Trust and Respect Scale (EBlackCU, 2021), the School Fairness Scale (EBlackCU, 2021), and the School Connectedness Scale (Anderson-Butcher et al., 2020). All items were measured on a five-point Likert ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Frequencies, one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), and Tukey HSD post-hoc tests were used to explore whether mean scores on each scale varied by demographic characteristics (i.e., race, gender, poverty indicators, etc.). In addition, we used a QuantCrit approach to examine differences in student perceptions at the intersection of race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Statistical significance was set at p < 0.05.

Results: Overall, our findings indicated that many students did not feel connected to their school. In total, 67% of students reported they strongly disagreed, disagreed, or were unsure when asked, “I feel like I belong at my school.” Moreover, only 21% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “At my school, students are disciplined fairly.” One-way ANOVAs initially revealed no statistically significant differences among demographic variables and mean scale scores. However, among intersectional demographic variables, one-way ANOVAs, and Tukey HSD post-hoc tests revealed that Black and Indigenous female students who received free and reduced lunch reported significantly lower mean scores on the Trust and Respect Scale than all other student subgroups (F = 3.94, p = 0.01).

Conclusion and Implications: Elevating the student voice is critical to improving school climate and culture, advancing racial equity, and working toward educational justice. Our results illuminated student perceptions in a diverse middle school that has historically struggled with discriminatory discipline practices and patterns of school pushout. Of concern, Black and Indigenous female youth experiencing poverty and its correlates perceived less trust and respect from adults in their school environment aligned with the theory of adultification of Black adolescent girls. Findings have implications for how policymakers, educators, and school social workers need to use data to drive school improvement efforts, address unconscious biases and discriminatory attitudes, and engage in anti-racist approaches to school turnaround and change.