'Black Girls Matter' Report Addresses School-to-Prison Pipeline in New Light

The study is based on a new review of national data and personal interviews with young women.

A new report aims to highlight the various factors that place young schoolgirls of color on a pathway to low-wage work, unemployment and incarceration at disproportionate rates.

In "Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected," researchers not only review national data on harsh disciplinary policies in schools, but they focus on the distinctly gendered dynamics of zero-tolerance environments and the consequences as well. The voices of young women of color in Boston and New York were also incorporated in the study through personal interviews and focus groups.

Some of the study's key observations include:

In New York and Boston, Black boys and girls were subject to larger achievement gaps and harsher forms of discipline than their white counterparts.

At-risk young women describe zero-tolerance schools as chaotic environments in which discipline is prioritized over educational attainment.

Increased levels of law enforcement and security personnel within schools sometimes make girls feel less safe and less likely to attend school.

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.

The failure of schools to intervene in situations involving the sexual harassment and bullying of girls contributes to their insecurity at school.

School-age Black girls experience a high incidence of interpersonal violence.

Black and latina girls are often burdened with familial obligations that undermine their capacity to achieve their academic goals.

"If the challenges facing girls of color are to be addressed, then research and policy frameworks must move beyond the notion that all of the youth of color who are in crisis are boys, and that the concerns of white girls are indistinguishable from those of girls of color," read the study's executive summary.

Confirming the urgency of this issue, the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that nationally, Black girls were suspended six times more than white girls, while Black boys were suspended three times as often as white boys.

Lead author Kimberlé Crenshaw argues that an "intersectional approach encompassing how related identity categories such as race, gender, and class overlap to create inequality on multiple levels is necessary to address the issue of school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline." 

“As public concern mounts for the needs of men and boys of color through initiatives like the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper, we must challenge the assumption that the lives of girls and women — who are often left out of the national conversation — are not also at risk,” added Crenshaw.

The report also suggests a number of interventions and policies to combat the challenges facing girls of color, such as ensuring a balanced approach to funding that supports the needs of women and girls as well as those of men and boys.

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 (Photo: 68/George Doyle/Ocean/Corbis)

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