For many Black students and educators, the #AssaultAtSpringValley reinforced much of what is already known about the excessively violent policing that occurs in American schools and the disproportionate number of Black girls affected. This time, however, cameras were rolling and America experienced an outpouring of emotion in reaction to the footage.
In response to the incident, the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) gathered a diverse panel of voices including students, educators and scholars to discuss how racial gaps in disciplinary policies create an environment where, according to advocate Je’Kendria Trahan, “school is not a place where you can be an unapologetic, carefree Black girl.”
In the webinar titled Spring Valley Is Everywhere: When Being A Black Girl Is Your Only Crime, the women offered unique perspectives on over-policing in education and presented a set of practical solutions to ensure Black girls feel safe in school again.
Check out five key takeaways from their discussion below.
NUMBERS DON’T LIE.
Keeping attendees on their toes, AAPF quizzed the audience on their knowledge of disciplinary trends against Black girls in schools. In three interactive polls, they shared these startling statistics featured in their trailblazing report released earlier this year:
- Nationally, Black girls are six times more likely to be suspended from school than their white counterparts. That’s double the rate of Black boys compared to white boys.
- In New York, Black Girls are expelled 53 times more than white girls.
- In some California counties, Black girls account for 70% of girls in the juvenile justice system.
Perhaps more startling than the numbers themselves, is the subjective reasoning behind these disparities. In the webinar, Barnard College student Nialah Edari recalled being unjustly punished for things as minor as violating the school’s dress code.
“I got called into the office for wearing braids,” she said. “I had shorts the same length as a white girl, but mine were ‘distracting.’”
Deemed “angry” and “defiant,” Black girls find themselves subjected to different rules than their white peers. Simple “non-white girliness” becomes a sanctioned ground for punishment.
LGBTQ BLACK GIRLS MATTER, TOO.
Sharing an anecdote of a transwoman sexually abused by a substitute teacher, Planned Parenthood specialist Samantha Master brought attention to the unique challenges of trans, queer and gender nonconforming Black girls. According to a report by the Crossroads Collaborative at the University of Arizona and the Gay-Straight Alliance, LGBTQ youth of color are more vulnerable to increased violence and sexual coercion from both their peers and school officials. When addressing the policing of Black girls in schools, LGBTQ Black girls matter, too.
WE’RE FORGETTING SOMETHING.
As news emerged of the student attacked at Spring Valley living in foster care, it became clear that school officials forgot to do one critical thing before penalizing her — Ask “Why?”
Nona Jones, Chief External Affairs Officer of the Pace Center for Girls, stressed the importance of administrators asking questions when dealing with students with behavioral issues. For Black girls, in particular, she noted that outward expressions of anger are often triggered by some form of trauma, and like many cases of PTSD, their anger is used as a cry of helplessness.
According to Jones, “We should be asking Black girls what happened to you, not what’s wrong with you.” Doing so requires that we critically re-evaluate the historical narrative that assumes Black girls are the source of the problem and recognize them as victims of it.
Furthermore, it is imperative that school officials question why classroom management is outsourced to the police at all. As the former educator and youth advocate, Kisha Webster put it, “Those who have issues with Black girls have issues with Black women.”
Accordingly, we must assess the cultural competencies of school officials and identify personal biases that may cause them to defer behavioral issues to school resource officers rather than assume roles of authority in their own classrooms. The collective failure to ask such tough questions renders Black girls susceptible to feelings of neglect and fear, causing them to ultimately disengage in their education.
CONVERSATION IS KEY.
Along with decriminalizing the subjective offense of “having an attitude,” we must develop a trauma-informed approach that fosters dialogue between Black girls and the larger community. Such a framework allows teachers, in particular, the opportunity to build relationships with their students so that when there are behavioral issues, they can get to the heart of the problem through counseling and conversation.
Teacher-parent relationships are equally critical. As opposed to just calling home when a something is wrong, the panel recommended a more productive, strength-based approach where teachers also recognize the students’ positive achievements, thereby affirming the strength of both the parent and the child.
IT WILL TAKE A VILLAGE.
Finally, all stakeholders concerned should be involved in providing for the safety of Black girls in schools. That includes Black women and girls impacted by police violence, policy makers, mental health professionals, educators, and most importantly Black men and boys.
“Where are the men who will not only speak up but are willing to put their bodies on the line for #BlackGirlsMatter?” Je’Kendria Trahan asked during the discussion, highlighting the fact that it was a Black teacher who instigated the call to resource officer in Spring Valley and stood by silently during the assault.
In Spring Valley and schools across the country, the intersections of racism and patriarchy create a system of dominance where Black girls are forced to comply with racialized and heteronormative behavioral codes. Addressing the intra-racial and inter-gender dimensions of this movement is essential to riding schools of gendered policing.
It will truly take a village to raise the injured spirits of Black girls in America — and that includes you! Find out how you can join the movement for women and girls of color at aapf.org.