Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected

Black Girls Matter cover page By Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw with Priscilla Ocen and Jyoti Nanda
February 1, 2015 9:00 am

The research reflected in this report was designed to elevate the voices of Black girls and other girls of color affected by punitive policies so as to deepen our understanding of the ways they experience inhospitable educational environments and to produce recommendations designed to eliminate those inequities. Towards this end, the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (CISPS) conducted focus groups and stakeholder interviews in Boston and New York City between September 2012 and August 2013. An analysis of reported data on school discipline was undertaken by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) with the support of analysts at UCLA Law School. A summary of observations appears below:

  • In New York and boston, black boys and girls were subject to larger achievement gaps and harsher forms of discipline than their white counterparts. On some measures, the relative magnitude of the racial disparity between girls is greater than the disparity between boys.
  • At-risk young women describe zero-tolerance schools as chaotic environments in which discipline is prioritized over educational attainment. Participants indicated that zero-tolerance environments are neither safe nor conducive to learning. On the contrary, the emphasis on discipline leads many girls to become disengaged from the learning process and from school altogether.
  • Increased levels of law enforcement and security personnel within schools sometimes make girls feel less safe and less likely to attend school. Some of the young women reported that their discomfort with security rituals such as passing through metal detectors was so great that they were dissuaded from coming to school at all.
  • Girls’ attachment and sense of belonging in school can be undermined if their achievements are overlooked or undervalued. Research suggests that black girls sometimes get less attention than their male counterparts early in their school careers because they are perceived to be more socially mature and self-reliant. The lack of attention can lead to “benign neglect” that may diminish school attachment in both high- and moderate-achieving female students.
  • Punitive rather than restorative responses to conflict contributes to the separation of girls from school and to their disproportionate involvement in the juvenile justice system. Several participants indicated that they were suspended or expelled and some even prosecuted – for fighting in school. Conflicts that might have been better addressed through counseling, or other conflict resolution strategies were instead referred to the juvenile justice system.
  • The failure of schools to intervene in situations involving the sexual harassment and bullying of girls contributes to their insecurity at school. Stakeholders and participants noted that a heavy emphasis on discipline does little to curb harassing behavior in schools. Instead, zero-tolerance policies may exacerbate the vulnerability of girls to harassing behavior because it penalizes them for defending themselves against such acts.
  • Girls sometimes resort to “acting out” when their counseling needs are overlooked or disregarded. In environments in which discipline is emphasized over counseling, girls who struggle with trauma and other unmet needs may come to the attention of school personnel only when their behavior leads to punishable offenses.
  • School-age black girls experience a high incidence of interpersonal violence. Among the factors that disrupted some of the participants’ ability to finish school was trauma associated with sexual assault and other forms of violence.
  • Black and Latina girls are often burdened with familial obligations that undermine their capacity to achieve their academic goals. Many stakeholders noted that girls were much more likely to be faced with caretaking responsibilities that compromised their ability to pursue their academic goals than their male counterparts.
  • Pregnancy and parenting make it difficult for girls to engage fully in school. Pregnant girls are burdened by early parenthood in ways that boys are not. They are segregated from their peers and stigmatized in a manner that may undermine their attachment to school.


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