How Black Girls Are Pushed Out of Schools: Author Monique Morris Explains
Education scholar Monique Morris has done extensive research about the way schools discipline young black girls. She’s the author of “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.” The book breaks down how and why these girls face punishment like suspension, expulsion, and even arrest at disproportionate rates. She argues that this disparity funnels black girls into the criminal justice system.
On Tuesday, Morris spoke at Wake Forest University. Before her lecture, WFDD Intern Mankaprr Conteh spoke to her about why she thinks the problem isn’t simply black girls being “bad,” but being misunderstood.
On how schools can push black girls out and into the juvenile justice system:
The decisions that are made on school campuses can turn girls away from schools and make them vulnerable to participation in underground economies that lead them into contact with the juvenile system. Some of those are related to a history of sexual victimization. There has been emerging work around the sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline as a framework to underscore the vulnerabilities associated with girls who experience sexual victimization. [When] this experience is not recognized, the trauma is not treated and engaged and instead really punished. There are school dress code issues that literally turn them away from school and [there’s] a differential application of the dress code policies that particularly impact black girls. There are misreadings of black feminine forms of expression.
On the misinterpretation of black girls’ behavior:
There are misreadings of their volume, misreadings of their quest to interrogate issues [and] express their critical thinking in ways that are perceived by many adults in schools as an affront to their authority. And so it becomes a battle of wits and a battle of authority rather than an active way to engage young people. When I talk about these issues, it's really important, I think, for us to think about them as not necessarily isolated incidents but the way in which they connect to many of the lingering ideas about black girlhood in society. [They] lead people to think that they have an “attitude” or that they are sassy and bossy and combative or defiant, when they are being joyful and playful and inquisitive and, you know, possibly wanting to more deeply interrogate systems of injustice.
On how schools and educators can prevent pushout:
What we know is that educators and schools that believe that you respond to negative student behavior using other means like restorative practices or a full continuum of interventions, that those are the schools that tend to have lower rates of exclusionary discipline. I think it's really important to spend some time [thinking about] how we're all deeply impacted by that prevailing consciousness that tells us that we must be punishment oriented. We can be healing and trauma responsive instead... There are multiple ways in which you can heal in school, not necessarily just being together in a circle and talking out your issues. For some having the school be a location where young people can exercise leadership is healing, where they can dance is healing, where they can engage in mindfulness practices is healing, where they can engage in yoga and meditation is healing, where they can have circles where they can talk about identities and how they're impacted by relationships and systems is healing. So, my challenge to educators, including myself, [is] really think about how we can engage in healing practices that are non-punitive when people make mistakes.