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Against Captivity: Black Girls and School Discipline Policies in the Afterlife of Slavery

  • Transformative Research: Institute for Research and Social Transformation


Multilayered disciplinary policies including sophisticated surveillance mechanisms and harsh punitive practices increasingly characterize schools in the United States. Researchers contend that these modalities funnel students into prisons and produce “prison-like” conditions and/or militarized spaces. Most studies have examined the effects of these school policies and practices on boys of color, particularly Black boys. Although these frameworks are useful, they obscure the relationship that school discipline policies have to Black girls and violence. Based on a 12-month case study of a high school in northern California, “Against Captivity: Black Girls and School Discipline in the Afterlife of Slavery,” finds that through formal discipline policies and informal punitive practices, Black girls’ are subject to constant surveillance while their lives are perpetually disavowed. This article contends that school discipline policies position Black girls as “captive objects.” The girls are under constant surveillance while they are refused access to agency, autonomy, and self-defense against multiple forms of violence including gratuitous punishment inflicted by school faculty.
Educational Policy
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© The Author(s) 2015
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DOI: 10.1177/0895904815615439
Against Captivity:
Black Girls and School
Discipline Policies in the
Afterlife of Slavery
Connie Wun1
Multilayered disciplinary policies including sophisticated surveillance mechanisms
and harsh punitive practices increasingly characterize schools in the United
States. Researchers contend that these modalities funnel students into prisons
and produce “prison-like” conditions and/or militarized spaces. Most studies
have examined the effects of these school policies and practices on boys of
color, particularly Black boys. Although these frameworks are useful, they
obscure the relationship that school discipline policies have to Black girls and
violence. Based on a 12-month case study of a high school in northern California,
“Against Captivity: Black Girls and School Discipline in the Afterlife of Slavery,”
finds that through formal discipline policies and informal punitive practices,
Black girls’ are subject to constant surveillance while their lives are perpetually
disavowed. This article contends that school discipline policies position Black
girls as “captive objects.” The girls are under constant surveillance while they
are refused access to agency, autonomy, and self-defense against multiple forms
of violence including gratuitous punishment inflicted by school faculty.
anti-Blackness, race and gender in education, school discipline, feminist
theory, Black feminism, intersectional feminism, gender and violence
1University of Illinois, Chicago, USA
Corresponding Author:
Connie Wun, Research Justice at the Intersections Scholar, Mills College, 5000 MacArthur
Blvd. Oakland, CA 94613, USA.
615439EPXXXX10.1177/0895904815615439Educational PolicyWun
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2 Educational Policy
On June 6, 2015, a video (Brookes, 2015) was widely circulated across the
Internet of Officer Eric Casebolt, a White male police officer, assaulting a
15-year-old Black girl, Dajerria Becton. Dajerria was attending a daytime
pool party in the suburban community of McKinney, Texas. After White
community members began harassing Dajerria’s friends, including Tatiana
Rhodes, a 19-year-old Black young woman, who threw the party, police were
called to the pool. In the video, Casebolt is seen yelling at Dajerria and threat-
ening her for “running her mouth.” Casebolt confronts Dajerria as she vocal-
izes her objection to Casebolt’s actions, which include screaming and
corralling her friends. Eventually, an angered Casebolt throws Dajerria to the
ground and sits on top of her while she screams and cries for help. Given the
distance between Dajerria and the camera phone recording the incident, one
can hear her either yelling, “on my mama” or “call my mama.” In either case,
Dajerria’s distress and objection to the police harassment are evident.
Since then, organizations including the Black Youth Project 100 and the
African American Forum have organized campaigns to highlight state vio-
lence against Black girls and women. According to the policy brief,
“SayHerName: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women,” by the
African American Policy Forum and the Columbia Center for Intersectionality
and Social Policy Studies (2015), Dajerria is one of many Black women and
girls in the United States who are subject to police violence. While most
attention surrounding anti-Black state violence has historically focused on
Black men and boys, scholars and activists are also examining the ways that
Black women and girls are affected by surveillance, harassment, and brutality
(Crenshaw, 2012; M. Morris, 2012; Roberts, 2011). According to Roberts
(2011), Black women (and girls) are not only criminalized and punished by
the police and prison system, they are also subject to criminalization and
policing by a myriad of state institutions including the foster care system and
schools. Recently, the African American Policy Forum and Columbia Center
for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (2014) and National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People and National Women’s
Law Center (2014) issued reports that examined the ways schools have
simultaneously over policed Black girls while neglecting their complex
needs. Their studies demonstrate that, in addition to the criminal justice sys-
tem, school discipline policies also criminalize Black girls.
This qualitative study, based in a suburban high school in northern
California, examines the narratives of Black girls disciplined in accordance
with school policies. Drawing from the stories of six Black girls regarding
their experiences with school discipline, the article provides narratives about
race, gender, surveillance, criminalization, and punishment in schools. The
girls’ narratives extend discourses about anti-Black police violence by identi-
fying the way school discipline policies construct conditions of captivity for
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them. Drawing from Hartman’s (1997) theory of the “afterlife of slavery” and
the ways that Black people are positioned as “captives,” this study highlights
the ways school discipline policies help to construct the conditions of captivity
for Black youth and specifically for Black girls.
Within the past decade, school discipline researchers have reported on the
disproportionate rates by which Black youth and other students of color
across rural, suburban, and urban communities are overrepresented in school
discipline data (Advancement Project, 2011; Losen & Skiba, 2010; Nocella,
Parmer, & Stovall, 2014; Wald & Losen, 2003). These studies have largely
focused on the ways that suspensions and expulsions help to funnel students
into prison. Calling this the school to prison pipeline (STPP), scholars and
advocates contend that students who have been excluded from school are
more likely to fall behind their peers. This subsequently “pushes” students
out of school and into the criminal justice system. Other studies contend that
school discipline policies help to create militarized “prison-like” conditions
for students (Fuentes, 2012; Nolan, 2011; Saltman & Gabbard, 2011). In
these spaces, students of color are constantly subject to security systems and
profiling by school administrators and police officers for drug use and weap-
ons possession. These students are policed and monitored in ways that create
a punitive “hostile” environment (Meiners, 2007, 2011). School discipline
research has also examined the specific effects that these discipline policies
and practices have on boys of color, particularly Black boys (Davis & Jordan,
1994; Ferguson, 2001; Monroe, 2006; Noguera, 2008). Recognizing the
impact of school discipline policies on the lives of students of color, specifi-
cally Black students, this article examines the punitive dimensions of school
discipline with a specific focus on its implications for Black girls.
Understanding that policies reproduce and are reflective of social struc-
tures (Stein, 2004), this study examines school discipline policies within the
context of what Hartman (1997) calls the “afterlife of slavery.” According to
Dillon (2012), the afterlife of slavery is characterized by,
the emptiness left by slavery’s regimes of unimaginable violence and terror, the
nothingness left by the deaths of 60 million or more. Even as slavery’s afterlife
is crushing, visible, and pervasive, it also looks like dust floating in the air. In
other words, slavery’s mark on the now manifests as the prison, as poverty, as
policing technologies; it emerges in insurance ledgers and in the organization
of urban space. (p. 121, emphasis added)
These school discipline policies, which are integral to U.S. policing technolo-
gies, create conditions of captivity for Black youth. As captives, this author
contends, they are perpetually watched but are simultaneously denied access
to their humanity, including rights and privileges over their lives and bodies.
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4 Educational Policy
More specifically, they do not have “access to injury” (Hartman, 1997), or
rights to self-defense or autonomy. This study identifies school discipline
policies as mediums by which Black people, particularly Black girls’, are
under constant surveillance but the complexitities of their lives, pain, and
suffering are negligible. Although the value of Black life is beyond the scope
of this article, a thorough exploration of this issue can be found on the Society
for Cultural Anthropology (2015) website.
Literature Review
School discipline research has largely focused on the STPP and its effects on
boys of color (Advancement Project, 2011; Ferguson, 2001; Noguera, 2008;
Wald & Losen, 2003). Although focusing on the STPP and its impacts on
boys of color helps researchers to understand the disparities in discipline
policies, these two approaches miss opportunities to examine the ways that
school discipline does more than funnel students into prison. At the same
time, they also fail to consider the ways that school discipline effects girls of
color, specifically Black girls.
In particular, the STPP literature has paid particular attention to “zero toler-
ance” policies (Ayers, Dohrn, & Ayers, 2001; Greene, 1999; Skiba & Knesting,
2001; Skiba & Peterson, 2000). According to these studies, schools funnel
students into prison through exclusionary practices such as suspensions and
expulsions. These studies suggest that harsh discipline policies serve to drive
students out of school. Students who miss classes are more likely to fall behind
their peers and become disconnected from school (Advancement Project,
2011; Kafka, 2011; Skiba & Peterson, 2000). According to the studies, stu-
dents who have been suspended or expelled drop or are gradually “pushed
out” of school. Research suggests they are more likely to be exposed to the
criminal justice system (Advancement Project, 2011; Wald & Losen, 2003).
For instance, according to the National Education Association,
For those students, [the school to prison pipeline] isn’t just an interruption in
learning, although it’s definitely that, too—if they aren’t in school, they aren’t
learning. A suspension can be life altering. It is the number-one predictor—
more than poverty—of whether children will drop out of school, and walk
down a road that includes greater likelihood of unemployment, reliance on
social-welfare programs, and imprisonment. (Flannery, 2015, para. 5)
STPP researchers also contend that the increasing presence of police offi-
cers has translated to more criminalization and arrests of students at school
(Kim, Losen, & Hewitt, 2010). Behaviors, such as being late to school, once
considered school infractions, are now increasingly subject to arrests and
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citations. According to Kim, Losen, and Hewitt (2010), students are now
more likely to be arrested not necessarily because students are committing
more crimes but because of the presence of police officers on their campus,
who are authorized to criminalize and arrest students.
STPP literature has also argued that harsh discipline policies dispropor-
tionately affect students of color. In a report issued by the U.S. Department of
Education’s Office of Civil Rights (2014), in 2009-2010, more than 30,000
California students were referred to law enforcement. At least 20,000 stu-
dents were arrested or given police tickets for infractions such as truancy
violations. According to the report, Black students constitute 16% of the stu-
dent population, yet they make up 32% to 42% of those suspended or
expelled. Comparatively, White students make up 51% of the student popula-
tion, but they are 31% to 40% of those who are suspended or expelled.
Researchers also suggest that schools, mirroring the prison system, are
equipped with surveillance cameras, security guards, metal detectors, or
guard dogs (Lyons & Drew, 2006; Saltman & Gabbard, 2011).
Scholars also argue that schools are increasingly becoming militarized
spaces that create punitive conditions for students of color (Nguyen, 2015;
Nolan, 2011; Saltman & Gabbard, 2011). Within the context of a pervasive
war on terror, militarized surveillance systems in U.S. schools help schools to
categorize students, particularly those unable to pass the surveillance tech-
nologies, as potential terrorists. Although such studies are important, they
miss opportunities to examine the specific connections between the United
States structural and foundational relationship to anti-Blackness. Instead,
they often use encompassing language of “students of color,” “people of
color,” or “urban youth,” thereby conflating Black students’ experiences with
that of their non-Black student of color peers (Sexton, 2010). This type of
designation, although seemingly innocuous in their efforts to identify racial
disparities in discipline policies, obscures the particularity of anti-Blackness
and Black students’ experiences. As Black studies scholars including Sexton
(2010) and Wilderson (2010) explain, anti-Blackness is without analogue.
Such comparisons or conflations serve to undermine the specific centrality of
anti-Blackness to U.S. society, its institutions, policies, and practices.
Although other students of color may be affected and “othered” by school
discipline policies and militarized structures, Black youth—as they are with
other forms of policing violence—are the “prototypical targets” of discipline
policies (Sexton, 2007). Sexton identifies the usage of “communities of
color” in lieu of the specificity of “anti-Blackness” as a misdiagnosis and
antagonism toward particularities of slavery and its afterlife.
We might, finally, name this refusal people-of-color-blindness, a form of
colorblindness inherent to the concept of “people of color” to the precise extent
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6 Educational Policy
that it misunderstands the specificity of antiblackness and presumes or insists
upon the monolithic character of victimization under white supremacy—
thinking (the afterlife of) slavery as a form of exploitation or colonization or a
species of racial oppression among others. (Sexton, 2010, p. 48)
Under the afterlife of slavery, anti-Blackness and its specificities are con-
sciously or unconsciously eclipsed or negated. This obscurity occurs despite
the United States’s legacy of violence against Black communities. Put differ-
ently, violence against Black communities is specific in its permeation and
For instance, Sojoyner (2013) contends that harsh school discipline prac-
tices have a long history in policing and punishing Black political struggle.
He argues that current discipline policies have been used since the late 1950s
to contain and neutralize Black student protests in public schools.
While Black communities in Los Angeles conceptualized and used public
education as a space to develop alternative models of cultural expression and
organizing, city officials, planners, and private capital lobbied for and
responded with brute force and policy tactics to undermine liberation
movements of Black Angelinos. (p. 235)
That is, while Black communities used public education as a space for politi-
cal education and mobilization, city officials enacted school policies and dis-
ciplinary procedures to undermine and neutralize such activities. Public
schools operated as politically contested spaces, specifically between Black
movements and White capitalist interests.
Sojoyner’s research highlights the ways that schools and discipline poli-
cies have historically been used not only to punish students for committing
infractions but also to undermine, if not neutralize, the possibility for Black
political education. In this sense, school discipline policies, including sus-
pensions and expulsions, help to construct not only an environment where
Black youth are disproportionately disciplined compared with their White
peers but also one that confines their political and social identities. School
discipline policies have a history in containing Black youth and their com-
munities, particularly in relationship to Black political mobilization.
School discipline literature that has examined the effects of school disci-
pline has often focused on boys of color (Ferguson, 2001; Monroe, 2006;
Noguera, 2008). These studies have provided a necessary framework for
understanding the racialized and criminalizing effects of discipline policies.
For example, in her landmark ethnographic study, Ferguson explores the
experiences that Black boys had with discipline at an elementary school in
California. According to her research, Black boys were more likely to be
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treated as adults and punished than their White peers. Ferguson’s analysis
helps us to understand the ways that teachers and administrators police Black
youth through discipline policies. Together, the studies on Black boys and
school discipline highlight the punitive conditions that shaped the experi-
ences of Black boys.
In recent years, there has been a growth in attention to the ways that school
discipline excludes and punishes Black girls (Blake, Butler, Lewis, &
Darensbourg, 2011; Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2002; Wallace,
Goodkind, Wallace, & Bachman, 2008). According to the U.S. Department of
Education’s Civil Rights Office (2014), 12% of school-aged Black girls
across the country have experienced out of school suspensions, compared
with 7% for Native American girls, 4% for Latinas, and 2% for White girls.
Nineteen percent of Black girls with disabilities have experiences with out of
school suspensions. In another study conducted by the African American
Policy Forum and the Columbia Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy
Studies (2014), which examined Black girls’ experiences with school disci-
pline in Boston and New York, 12% of Black girls across the city’s public
schools had been suspended in 2013 compared with 2% of their White coun-
terparts. The study also found that 90% of girls expelled from New York
Schools in 2011-2012 were Black, whereas none of the girls expelled were
White. Based upon the study, most of the girls’ infractions are for disobedi-
ence and deviance. Other research has found that Black girls are twice as
likely as their White counterparts to be sent to the office and are five times as
likely to be suspended or expelled (Wallace, Goodkind, Wallace, & Bachman,
2008). This study finds that Black girls are not only more likely to be sus-
pended and expelled, they are more likely to be under constant surveillance
by school administrators and disciplined for “disobedience” and “defiance”
(E. W. Morris, 2007). In fact, according to the NAACP and National Women’s
Law Center (2014), during the 2011-2012 school year, 12% of African
American girls, from pre-K through 12th grade, were suspended. The rate is
6 times higher than that of White girls and is also higher than for White,
Asian, and Latino boys. These numbers provide some insight into the condi-
tions affecting Black girls’ experiences in schools.
Theoretical Framework
Informed by Black feminist scholarship including Saidiya Hartman’s (1997)
concept of the “afterlife of slavery,” this study examines the ways school
discipline policies do more than funnel students into prison or create a hostile
environment. In addition, within the context of an anti-Black society, Black
girls are perpetually punished through state institutions, their policies, and
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actors. Black feminist scholars emphasize the experiences and insights of
women and girls of color, particularly Black women and girls, because they
have been excluded from most traditional discourses (Crenshaw, 1995; Hill-
Collins, 2000). Black feminist research has helped to understand better the
experiences of women and girls of color, as ones informed by intersecting
marginalities that include race, gender, and class (Crenshaw, 1995; Hill-
Collins, 2000; James & Sharpley-Whiting, 2000; Richie, 1996).
These experiences of multiple forms of marginalization are often dis-
missed, while Black women and girls are subject to various forms of vio-
lence, particularly through state institutions. Black feminist Dorothy Roberts
(1997) demonstrates through her analyses of the eugenics movement, forced
sterilization campaigns, and the welfare system, that U.S. institutions have
historically waged attacks against Black women’s bodies. Most recently,
Roberts (2011) studied the ways that the foster care and prison system have a
symbiotic relationship that punishes Black mothers. Beth Richie (2012)
argues that the United States’s prison nation, including its criminal justice
system, specifically harms Black women. According to Joy James (1999), to
best understand and address Black women’s conditions in the United States,
Black feminism must examine the ways that institutions inflict violence upon
Black women and girls. These institutions are part of a larger social condition
that Hartman (1997) has identified as the “afterlife of slavery.”
Hartman argues that our current period is affected by a longer history of
anti-Blackness in which Black bodies are structurally and perpetually subject
to premature death and ongoing captivity. In her analysis of the afterlife of
slavery and Black women’s subjectivities, Black bodies, she argues, are
denied access to self-defense, privacy, or autonomy. She writes,
Black lives are still imperiled and devalued by a racial calculus and a political
arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago. This is the afterlife of slavery—
skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death,
incarceration, and impoverishment. (Hartman, 1997, p. 6)
Further evidence of this condition can be found through the high rates of
police brutality and assault against Black communities and the simultaneous
neglect of Black women and girls, including their experiences with sexual
assault, domestic violence, and poverty. Richie (1996, 2012) and Roberts
(1997, 2011) have written extensively about the ways that state institutions
have systematically criminalized and neglected Black women and girls.
Through slavery and its afterlife, Black lives are constructed as captive,
confined, and subject to the whims of the master’s fantasies. Hartman further
writes, “ . . . the enslaved were required to sing or dance for the slave owner’s
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pleasure as well as to demonstrate their submission, obsequiousness, and
obedience” (Hartman, 1997, p. 8). Drawing from Black feminism’s analyses
of slavery and its afterlife, Dillon (2012) contends, “Slavery’s afterlife sur-
faces in the gaps between the recorded, the forgotten, and the never will be”
(p. 121). Informed by these frameworks, I contend that school discipline
operates as an instrument in the “afterlife of slavery” that positions the Black
girl as perpetually and involuntarily open to surveillance and control. She is
denied access to self-autonomy, which includes feelings and forms of self-
defense. Empathy does not apply to her life and narratives. Her stories disap-
pear and are disavowed. Through school discipline, she is constituted as a
“captive object,” one that is ever-observed yet without recognition. Captive
objects, as exemplified by Dajerria Becton’s experience in McKinney, Texas,
do not have access to “injury,” narratives of intersectional violence, suffer-
ing, emotions, or resistance. She operates to be seen, as a criminal under
observation, instead of as a subject/person with feelings to be recognized,
defended, or supported. Importantly, this study does not make claims that the
girls are mere victims of the captive conditions created by school discipline
policies and practices. Instead, their narratives are similar to those espoused
by Black feminist scholars. As Sexton (2010) writes,
This is why for Hartman resistance is figured through the black female’s sexual
self-defense, as exemplified by the 1855 circuit court case State of Missouri v.
Celia, a Slave, in which the defendant was sentenced to death by hanging on
the charge of murder for responding with deadly force to the sexual assault and
attempted rape by a white male slaveholder. (p. 33)
By extrapolating the conditions of slavery and its afterlife, and its particu-
lar effects on Black women (and girls), Hartman (1997) and Sexton (2010)
provide insight into the underlying logic that informs the experiences Black
girls have with school discipline and punishment. They provide a framework
to help examine the ways in which and reasons why Black women and girls
have been disciplined by U.S. society and its laws.
This qualitative study includes document analysis, in-depth interviews, and
participant observation conducted at Foundations High School (FHS),
Northern California. During the 2013-2014 school year, the population was
22.1% Asian, 19% Filipino, 32% Latino, 7.8% White, 9% Black, 4% Native
Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and less than 1% Native American. This article
focuses on the data collected from participant observation and in-depth
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interviews of five Black girls who provide insight into their experiences with
school discipline. Using purposive sampling (Patton, 1990), this study inter-
viewed girls who had discipline records (i.e., suspensions or referrals). One
of the school administrators generated a list of names of girls who had disci-
pline records for the second half of the 2012-2013 school year and the first
half of the 2013-2014 year. In 2012, the author conducted a pilot study at the
site. As a result, administrators, teachers, and other staff were familiar with
the author’s presence on campus.
The girls who participated in this study met all the criteria: girl of color
with discipline record, attended the initial recruitment meeting, returned their
consent form, parent permission slip, and returned for the interview. I chose
to focus on five of the 15 Black girls who were interviewed because their
experiences were emblematic of their peers’ stories. Their ages range from 15
to 18 years.
The girls’ narratives provide important insight into the various ways
school discipline policies affect the girls’ lives. The study was guided by the
following questions:
Research Question 1: What are some of the reasons that girls of color,
specifically Black girls, are punished?
Research Question 2: What are the types of discipline and punishment
that Black girls experience?
Research Question 3: What are the effects of these types of discipline and
Each interview was audiotaped and transcribed. Every week, the author lis-
tened to recordings of the interviews and transcribed them. Afterwards, data
were analyzed using a color-coded interpretive coding system based on
salient phrases that emerged from interviews and observations (Saldaña,
2012). The author also conducted 44 hr of participant observation in the
school. This included 41 hr of visits to classrooms to observe teachers (with
their permission) and students interact with one another. During this time, the
author visited American History, Fundamentals in English, and Ethnic
Studies classes. At each visit, the author participated in the classroom by
assisting students with their assignments.
Discipline Policies
This section provides a brief overview of Foundation High School’s disci-
pline policies, which govern the school environment. The outline of federal,
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state, and local policies provides insight into the types of behaviors that are
disciplined and punished.
The schools’ discipline handbook outlines the school’s mission statement
including expectations and consequences for student behaviors. As a hybrid
of federal, state, and district mandates, the handbook includes 30 policies.
Importantly, these policies do not encompass all the regulations listed and
mandated through the Education Codes.
The Codes that mandate suspensions and expulsions, which must be
approved by the district school board, include several for weapons possession
that can be traced to the federal Guns Free Schools Act (GFSA) of 1994
(Ayers, Dohrn, & Ayers, 2001). GFSA is a federal policy created in the early
1990s by President Bill Clinton. Written into the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act (ESEA), the mandate requires that all federally funded schools
expel students found with a weapon within 1,000 feet from school grounds
for at least 1 year. According to the mandate,
Each State receiving Federal funds under any title of this Act shall have in
effect a State law requiring local educational agencies to expel from school for
a period of not less than 1 year a student who is determined to have brought a
firearm to a school, or to have possessed a firearm at a school, under the
jurisdiction of local educational agencies in that State, except that such State
law shall allow the chief administering officer of a local educational agency to
modify such expulsion requirement for a student on a case-by-case basis if
such modification is in writing. (Section 4141)
This federal mandate, school discipline scholars argue, has helped to shape
several other state-based suspension and expulsion policies (Wald & Losen,
In particular, California Education Code Sections 48915, 48900, and
48927 expound upon the federal policy. According to California Education
Code Sections 48915, 48900 to 48927 (California State Legilature, 2015),
there are 21 offenses subject to suspension or expulsion. This list includes
violent and non-violent offenses. Violent infractions include causing physical
injury, use of willful force, possession of weapons or imitation firearms, sex-
ual assault or battery, witness harassment, hazing, bullying, and aiding or
abetting injury to another. If a student commits any of these violent actions,
authorities must immediately suspend or expel them. Students who commit
these offenses are also subject to criminal investigation.
School discipline, according to the handbook, is about constructing a safe
and effective learning environment. While the index of possible violent
offenses is long, the discipline handbook also comprises a long list of non-
violent infractions such as drug-related and property offenses. As dictated by
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California Education Codes, FHS school administrators are authorized to
suspend or expel students for possessing controlled substances, robbery or
extortion, property damage, theft, tobaccos use, obscenity and profanity, drug
paraphernalia, disruption, receiving stolen property, and using the prescrip-
tion drug Soma.
The school also has strict policies about cell-phone use and student attire.
Students are mandated to keep phones “off and away” at all times. Thus, if
students are found using phones in class, teachers are authorized to confiscate
them and refer students to the principal. In addition, students are prohibited
from showing their body parts. The handbook prohibits students from wear-
ing “off the shoulder” tops or showing their “buttocks.” These policies indi-
cate that the school is not only interested in prohibiting drugs or violence, but
also in enforcing expectations about specific ways that students should dress
and comport themselves. Students are prohibited from displaying “obscene
behavior” such as “prolonged kissing.” These policies provide insight into
the school’s values as well as the types of youthful behaviors, rendered devi-
ant by social etiquette (Foucault, 1977). Importantly, the way that the stu-
dents dress is not inherently bad or criminal, but is rendered such by these
rules. In other words, these policies produce ideas about what constitutes
deviance at the same time they legitimize the attending consequences.
Less about controlling violence, these policies regulate students’ non-violent
movements, labeling expressions and forms of communication as “defiance” and
“disobedience.” Based on the girls’ narratives, despite the long list of rules, the
non-violent infractions applied most to their experiences with school discipline.
In other words, although there is a list of rules and policies that can be used to
manage students’ behaviors to prohibit school violence, most of the trouble the
girls got into was based on “talking back” to their teachers (M. Morris, 2012;
Sharma, 2013). Characterizations of what constitute “disobedience” or “defi-
ance” are often subjective and defined by the adults (Chesney-Lind & Irwin,
2008). Despite the extensive list of discipline policies, only a few of them—
particularly defiance and disobedience—typically affect Black students.
Disciplinary Effects
According to FHS’ discipline records, Black and Latino girls are more likely
to be disciplined than their White and Asian counterparts are. In particular,
Latinas constitute 37% of the population of girls who have discipline records
(i.e., detention, suspension, or expulsion records). In addition, whereas
Filipino girls make up 12% of all girls who have discipline records, Black girls
constitute 26% of the discipline data for girls. These numbers indicate that
Latinas are overrepresented and Black girls are even more overrepresented in
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the data. These large and troubling numbers, while extremely important to
highlight, do not even begin to tell us the seriousness of the crises facing Black
girls in schools. Their experiences with school discipline include and extend
beyond suspensions.
Constant Surveillance Without Recognition
According to the girls, although all students were subject to school discipline
only some students are subject to perpetual surveillance. In particular, Black
girls in the study claimed that they often got into trouble for “defiance” and
“disobedience.” Behaviors categorized as defiant or disobedient included hav-
ing “attitudes,” a “smart mouth,” or “talking back.” These behaviors, under
the assertion that they disturbed the learning environment, elicited conse-
quences including referrals and suspensions. In addition, according to the
girls, consequences also included harassment, heightened surveillance, and
jail. Based on the girls’ narratives, these behaviors, when committed by Black
girls, were criminalized by school authorities. When their peers exhibited
similar behaviors, they went unpunished. Similar to Ferguson’s (2001) study
on Black boys in elementary school, behaviors permissible for their non-Black
peers, including wearing hats or talking to peers, became infractions for Black
girls. In other words, the girls’ narratives suggest that they were more likely to
be criminalized and punished than their non-Black classmates.
The girls acknowledged they were not suspended or expelled as often as
boys, but felt they were under constant surveillance and perpetually disci-
plined. The girls shared experiences of being disciplined for: “looking like
they are talking,” “chewing gum,” or “getting up to throw paper away.” For
these other infractions, the girls explained that they were sent out of class for
the entire period, or were yelled at, embarrassed in class, or left feeling con-
stantly scrutinized. Historically, these informal types of punishment have not
been documented as forms of discipline within school discipline literature.
Instead, there has been a greater emphasis on suspensions and expulsions.
However, these “unarchived forms of discipline” were also commonly prac-
ticed, if not more so than suspensions and expulsions (Wun, 2014b). They
also served to constrain and punish the girls’ movements and behaviors.
Carla, a 15-year-old Black girl in the 10th grade shared her experience of being
suspended by school authorities and arrested by police officers on campus. Both
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institutions, she contended, placed her under observation and punished her for
an infraction that she did not commit. According to Carla, the most difficult part
of being suspended was that she tried most of her time in school to stay out of
trouble, to escape surveillance from school authorities by being “under the
radar.” Understanding that Black students are susceptible to suspensions and
expulsions, Carla tried to keep to herself to avoid any conflicts with other stu-
dents and to do well in school. She was quiet and reserved in her classes. She
imagined that if she did this, she would avoid suspension or expulsion.
As a Black girl, Carla believed that to survive high school, she needed to
do well in school and avoid getting into conflicts with administrators and
teachers. In addition, because she was living away from her mother and with
her grandparents, Carla wanted to make sure that she did not burden them
with any problems from school. This meant, “keeping to [her]self,” and
avoiding “bad crowds.” However, despite these efforts, she was suspended
and arrested for theft earlier in the school year. These were her first experi-
ences with school discipline in high school.
I was in the locker room and I had seen this girl at the other end. She was like
going through people’s lockers. I had witnessed that she was going through
people’s stuff. I didn’t tell her to stop. I said don’t touch these lockers cuz I
know them. (Carla, personal communication, April 5, 2013)
She explained that she did not want to get involved, but wanted to make sure
that she helped protect her friends’ belongings. According to Carla, after she
made sure that the girls did not open her friends’ lockers, she left the locker
room. “She had taken an iPhone, a wallet, and I don’t know what else. And I
had walked out before her and she had walked out after me.”
Aligned with her efforts to “keep to herself,” Carla did not report the inci-
dent to school officials. She explained, “It wasn’t my business.” Underlying
this decision was a particular common sense, which understood that “snitch-
ing” or telling on peers to school authorities could possibly initiate a confron-
tation between her and the other girl. Given this possibility, Carla avoided
school authorities and the girl as a form of protection and self-defense. In
other words, her actions were demonstrative of her survival mechanisms. As
Jones (2009) highlights in her study of inner-city Black girls, girls navigate
through complex layers of violence from their peers and state institutions
(including schools and police.) Carla’s survival mechanisms mirror those of
the girls in Jones’ study. Yet, in spite of her efforts, she was disciplined and
punished. Recalling the incident, she shared,
Somebody had said that they had seen me walk out with a wallet, but I didn’t
take anything. I got suspended and arrested for that . . . The campus security
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came to my class. I thought it was because there was a boy who had gotten
jumped and they wanted to ask me questions about that. And right when I got
in [the office], they [the police] automatically said I was arrested for taking
this, this, this. They read me my rights, said I had the right to remain silent. So
I stopped talking. They asked me questions that I refused to answer . . . they
didn’t handcuff [me] or anything . . . it was just verbal.[The principal] said they
wanted to ask me about what happened on Friday in the locker room. I was like
okay. He said, “You heard there was an iPhone that came up missing?” [She
said,] “Yeah, I heard there was an iPhone that came up missing.” [But] I stopped
talking. (Carla, personal communication, April 3, 2013)
When Carla was brought to the office by campus security, the police officers
greeted her. After they read her rights to her, she chose to remain silent and
refused to answer any of the principal or police officers’ questions. She
recalled that the police officers, an Asian male and White male, responded to
her silence by saying, “We don’t have to deal with your attitude.” Asserting
her right to remain silent to defend against incrimination or false charges was
characterized by the police officers as “attitude.” Subsequently, Carla was
transported from school grounds to a holding cell at the City jail where the
police took her picture and fingerprinted her.
Carla: When I refused [to speak], they threatened to take me juvenile
hall. The white male police officer] got mad.
C: How do you know he got mad?
Carla: He got red. He called my aunt told her he was going to take me
to jail. “We don’t have time for this.” They took me jail, took my pic-
ture, fingerprints, asked me questions: How tall I was; How old I was.
Put me in the holding cell until my aunt picked me up. (Carla, personal
communication, April 3, 2013)
Carla was detained until the evening. Although no criminal charges were
brought, Carla was mandated to attend a restorative justice program for coun-
seling services. According to Carla, she was offered this alternative to avoid
burglary charges. Not clearly understanding her rights and wanting to avoid
court, she decided to accept the counseling service option. She was required
to check in with the restorative justice counselor for 6 months. Each week,
she was required to meet with the counselor and submit school progress
report from her teachers. While this helped her stay on track, it also served as
a form of unsolicited policing. According to her, she was being closely moni-
tored for a crime she did not commit. In addition to meeting these mandates,
for purportedly stealing, Carla was suspended from school for 5 days. As a
result of the arrest, Carla became known as “the troublemaker” in her family
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and among some of her peers. Although she wanted to be as minimal of a
burden to her grandparents as possible, she was not considered a “problem
child” for them. She explained that her grandfather was extremely disap-
pointed in her and momentarily stopped talking to her.
Carla shared that being disciplined by the school and criminal justice sys-
tem had effects on her emotions and relations to classmates and family mem-
bers. She felt increasingly “lonely” because she needed to “keep to herself”
even more than she did before the event. Carla’s narrative suggests that she
was punished despite her efforts to exist under the radar and for how she
chose to navigate through complex conditions.
Monica, a 16-year-old Black girl in the 11th grade, explained that although
she was a dutiful student who tried to do well in school and to stay out of
trouble, she felt trapped by the racism of school authorities. She felt they did
not understand her and refused to do so, but were more inclined to punish her
for failing to meet their rules. Monica explained, “You’re damned if you do,
you’re damned if you don’t.” Her experiences at school reflect Roberts (1997,
2011) research, which demonstrate that Black women (and girls) are often
simultaneously punished and neglected by state institutions, including child
welfare services and the foster care system.
As the oldest child of three children in single-parent household, Monica
was responsible for her siblings when her mother left for the graveyard shift
in the evening. After finishing her homework, her household chores included
bathing, feeding, and putting her 1- and 7-year-old brothers to sleep while her
mother worked. Throughout the interviews she explained, “I have a lot of
responsibilities.” Because she was often late to school from staying up late
with her brothers, she was often marked late to class, eventually leading to a
“truancy” record. She shared, “I don’t get much sleep.” Although Monica
previously explained to her teacher she had extenuating circumstances at
home, her teacher offered little sympathy but did give her several tardy refer-
rals. Once during an argument with her teacher over a tardy referral, Monica
expressed her resentment and hurt by blurting out, “whatever makes you
sleep at night.” Retrospectively, she thought that her outburst would have
alerted the teacher to her desperate frustrations about school and her life at
home. Instead, the teacher characterized Monica’s behavior as “disrespect-
ful,” and gave her a referral for being tardy and disobedient.
This study does not offer a critique of single-family households. On the
contrary, drawing from Hartmann, Childers, and Shaw (2015), the author rec-
ognizes that family incomes and resources have greater impacts on children’s
lives than the makeup of family structures. This report, which was written on
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behalf of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, argues that Black girls,
are impacted disproportionately by the interstices of poverty, racism, and sex-
ism, compared with White boys and boys of color. These systemic conditions
have material effects on the girls’ lives including their emotions and behav-
iors in school. She shared, “For the past month, I feel depressed out of
nowhere. I just get mad from lack of sleep. I have a lot of responsibilities”
(Monica, personal communication, April 7, 2013). According to Monica’s
narrative, her behaviors are demonstrative of complex conditions. Instead of
recognizing and supporting her efforts to manage these complexities, school
discipline policies criminalize and subsequently punish her.
Stacy, a 15-year-old Black girl in the 10th grade, had been suspended twice
for fighting and according to her, has multiple referrals for “disobedience.”
According to Stacy, the primary reason for her discipline record was because
“teachers don’t like Black kids.” She witnessed teachers “disrespecting”
Black teachers and contends that if adults can be disrespected, “imagine how
they feel about students.” In addition to her critique of school discipline,
Stacy shared that her discipline record was also a result of her “anger.” Stacy
explained, “I have a lot of anger.”
Like Monica, Stacy believed that her anger emanated from trying to bal-
ance complex dynamics outside of school, including homelessness and
“domestic violence.”
Stacy: We’ve been having problems at home . . . now we tryna see
where I can stay . . . I don’t stay at home . . . [but] my momma doesn’t
want me stay with my granny [in Louisiana] . . . I can’t stay at home
. . . cuz I don’t get along with her baby daddy . . .
C: Why don’t you get along with him?
Stacy: Sometimes he picks arguments . . . sometimes I be having argu-
ments. Night before last, we got into an argument, cuz he pushed me.
(Stacy, personal communication, February 21, 2013)
Stacy and her family moved from Louisiana to leave a domestic violence
situation. Before her family was able to find housing in California, they lived
in a women’s shelter, where she witnessed a mother “miscarried right in front
of [her].” Reflecting on this experience, Stacy shared that the experiences
with domestic violence and homelessness affected her behaviors at school.
Research has shown that experiences with traumatic events such as violence
shape students’ propensity toward depression, anxiety, and anger (Gillies,
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18 Educational Policy
Taylor, Gray, O’Brien, & D’Abrew, 2013; Kataoka, Langley, Wong, Baweja,
& Stein, 2012). Stacy’s narrative suggested a need for support services to
help her cope with the traumatic experiences with premature death and
domestic violence. However, studies suggest that women and girls of color,
particularly Black women and girls, are less likely to receive this support
(Wun, 2014a).
Studies demonstrate that women and girls of color, particularly Black
women and girls, are more likely to live under conditions of poverty than
their White counterparts (African American Policy Forum and the Columbia
Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, 2014; Hartmann et al.
2015). At the same time that these women and girls are under resourced, they
are also more likely to be subject to institutional racism, leaving them with
limited options for protection against interpersonal and state violence
(Hartmann et al., 2015). In other words, in cases of domestic and sexual vio-
lence, women and girls of color, specifically Black women and girls, are less
likely to be afforded the possible protections or options provided through
institutional and financial support (Hartmann et al., 2015; Richie, 1996,
2012). In Stacy’s case, she explained that she also experienced police brutal-
ity by the school police officer. The previous year, Stacy was involved in a
verbal altercation off-campus, which resulted in the police officer yelling and
throwing her to the ground (Wun, 2014b). According to Stacy, she shared that
the racism from schoolteachers who did not like Black children or teachers,
and the police brutality from the police officer led her to withdraw from
school. When asked if she went to school authorities to talk about the vio-
lence that she has witnessed or experienced, she referred to her experiences
with school discipline and her teachers’ racism, to explain why she did not
trust adults at school. In response Stacy explained, “I keep stuff in.”
The choice to “keep stuff in” is a consequence of living under the condi-
tion of slavery and its afterlife, by which Black women and girls are not only
sexually assaulted, but denied recognition of the potential to be injured, and
the injury itself. Hartman (1997) explains that “unredressed injury” is a con-
dition of captivity for Black women (p. 96). Instead of having the privileges
and rights granted to Whites, which include recognition of their susceptibility
and experiences with pain, Black women and girls are positioned to be struc-
turally vulnerable to multiple forms of violence and without protection.
Charmaine, a 14-year-old Black girl in the ninth grade, explained that she
gets into trouble because of things that happen outside of school. “Sometimes
things happen outside of school. Like me.” She imagined that if her teachers
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knew of her experiences they would be more understanding and provide her
with support instead of referrals. At the time of the interview, Charmaine had
recently been given two referrals for “disobedience” and “defiance.” She
explained that if her teachers knew about her circumstances, they would not
punish her.
There are five of us. Sometimes my mom doesn’t eat so the rest of us can eat.
Sometimes I don’t eat so the little ones can eat. He [the teacher who recently
gave her a referral] doesn’t know that sometimes I have to walk one or two
hours to school because my mom’s car broke down. He doesn’t know these
things. They don’t see these things. (Charmaine, personal communication,
April 7, 2014)
She believed that if her teachers understood her difficult experiences, they
would be less punitive and more supportive. Similar to Stacy, she believed
that her behaviors at school were connected to the ways she was trying to
navigate through violent conditions.
During the exceptionally sensitive interview, Charmaine shared that she
had recently been kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Studies suggest that
although any person can be vulnerable to “sex-trafficking,” women and girls
of color are more likely to be subject to forced prostitution than their White
and male counterparts (National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People and National Women’s Law Center, 2014). She described her experi-
ences of being forced into prostitution:
I got off the bus because it doesn’t go up the hill and was going to walk to my
friend’s house. I was trying to call her but I dropped my phone. Someone
grabbed me and threw me into a van. Next thing I know, I was in a hotel with a
bunch of other girls. (Charmaine, personal communication, April 7, 2014)
Thereafter, she was forced to have sex with different men for nearly 3
months. According to Charmaine, the men who kidnapped her, her “pimps,”
threatened to hurt her family including her siblings if she tried to contact them
or the police. Although she was eventually able to escape, Charmaine was
affected by the sexual violence. She expressed that the experience of being
kidnapped and pimped shaped her moods in school. When asked about the
type of support she received from school, she explained that school officials,
who were made aware of the violence because of her excessive absences, had
partnered with Child Protective Services (CPS) to monitor her and her family.
She also shared that her mother was under police investigation for child
neglect and abuse. This tripartite relationship between school administrators,
police, and CPS made Charmaine uncomfortable. Fearful that she was going
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to be taken away from her family, she hesitated to talk to school counselors
about the kidnapping and her experiences with prostitution.
Being subject to violence and having to fear that her mother could possi-
bly be arrested negatively impacted Charmaine and her ability to focus in
school. She had a difficult time focusing and following directions. She admit-
ted that she was easily angered and anxious. These emotions materialized as
losing patience with teachers or refusing to complete tasks in class. Her
teachers—particularly the White male who gave her two recent referrals—
often responded with referrals and suggestions for suspensions. According to
Charmaine, she hoped that her teachers would have learned about or consid-
ered the underlying reasons behind her difficulties at school instead of label-
ing and punishing her for “disobedience,” and “defiance.”
Despite her hopes, the author learned that most of her teachers, including
the teacher who recently gave her two referrals, had been notified about the
kidnapping and prostitution. In an interview with the teacher, he explained
that he was suspicious about her narrative and believed that either way,
Charmaine should not be “coddled.” In this sense, instead of supporting
Charmaine by acknowledging the injuries that may have come with being
kidnapped and forced into prostitution, her teacher gave her referrals for dis-
obeying him. Importantly, although Charmaine may have been disobedient,
her potential refusal to listen to her teacher or desire to interrupt class is remi-
niscent of Hartman’s (1997) analysis of the importance of resistance during
slavery. She writes,
The everyday practices of the enslaved encompassed an array of tactics such as
work slowdowns, feigned illness, unlicensed travel, the destruction of property,
theft, self-mutilation, dissimulation, physical confrontation with others and
overseers that document the resistance to slavery. These small-scale and
everyday forms of resistance interrupted, reelaborated, and defied the
constraints of everyday life under slavery ad exploited openings in the system
for the use of the enslaved. (p. 51)
Put differently, Charmaine’s responses, if they could be characterized as “dis-
bodience” were versions of resistance to a condition by which school authori-
ties and other adults had not acknowledged the violence being committed
against her and the subsequent injuries.
Although she insisted on succeeding in school, before the end of the
school year and this project, Charmaine had stopped showing up. Teachers
believed that she had dropped out. According to the policy report by the
NAACP and National Women’s Law Center (2014), “experiences of trauma
correspond with decreased school engagement and reduced educational
achievement. While not specific to African American girls, there is research
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linking children’s reports to exposure to violence to poor academic perfor-
mance” (p. 20). Although Charmaine’s narrative does not delineate a clear
connection between poverty, forced prostitution, and her performance at
school, her story does suggest that she needed much more support and care
than was provided to her, particularly by her teachers. Although the school
may not have been fully equipped to provide the services that Charmaine
may have needed, the school discipline policies that her teacher used to send
her out of class or to subsequently make her feel as though he or other teach-
ers did not understand her circumstances speaks to the condition of constant
surveillance and punishment without recognition.
Black girls, this study demonstrates, are subject to punishment for non-
violent infractions, which qualify as “disobedience” and “defiance.” Despite
the extensive list of discipline policies, the girls shared that they most often
got into trouble for having attitudes or being disrespectful to their teachers or
other staff. However, according to the girls’ narratives, behaviors that were
being characterized as forms of disobedience were their way of demonstrat-
ing that they had or were suffering some type of violence outside of school.
In other words, the girls were being disciplined and punished for the ways
that they navigated and responded to exposures to community and interper-
sonal violence. Although the girls were often under constant surveillance,
their stories of injury, self-defense, and survival were ignored. Instead, the
girls were punished. The punishment occurred, this study finds, despite
teachers knowledge of the girls’ complex circumstances.
According to Hartman (1997), “the law’s selective recognition of slave per-
sonhood and subjectivity in regard to issues of injury . . . defined the identity
of the slave female by the negation of sentience . . . and the negligibility of
her injuries” (p. 97). Black girls in these narratives were prohibited from
articulating their struggles, disagreements, or injuries. According to the girls,
when they did, they were punished. In this sense, Sojoyner’s (2013) analysis
helps scholars and activists to understand the ways that school discipline is
about policing Black bodies and resistance. According to the girls, school
discipline policies and practices quell the girls’ abilities to assert their agen-
cies and subjectivities as humans, particularly within the context of the after-
life of slavery where they are structurally and institutionally rendered captive
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According to the girls’ narratives, discipline policies have obscured if not
ignored the girls’ experiences with poverty, gender-based violence, gratuitous
violence, and punishment. As a result, the school’s disciplinary landscape has
produced a condition by which Black girls are forced to withdraw, feel con-
fined, misunderstood, and despised as they are subject to constant surveillance
and control. It would be important to understand that these policies and subse-
quent responses are not necessarily indicative of the school’s limited resources.
Instead, as Black feminist scholars have theorized, these policies are part of a
larger structural condition that authorizes institutions and individuals to per-
petually violate Black girls and women without acknowledging the possibility
of their victimhood. In this sense, while most school discipline scholars, par-
ticularly those who study discipline policies’ effects on Black girls and other
girls of color, highlight the racial biases in calling Black girls “defiant” or
“disobedient,” this study suggests that the girls may actually be defiant and
disobedient in ways that should be supported and championed.
The dominant discourses on school discipline disparities obscure a structural
condition that positions the Black girl within an anti-Black context and space
where she is subject to multiple forms of violence—including schools as sites of
captivity and object formation. Her efforts to feel and navigate through this mul-
tilayered reality are ignored and disavowed. By punishing and disciplining her,
discipline practices obscure the context(s) that confine her, including the impulse
to characterize her as a problem. Instead of recognizing her injuries and feelings
and supporting her acts of agency, she is punished and disciplined.
As the girls’ stories indicate, they are up against multiple odds that are
often if not entirely not of their doing. When they resist these conditions or
act out because of them, they are deemed defiant. Instead of attempting to
disprove these characterizations, it would be useful for school discipline and
educational reform scholars who are most interested in supporting Black
youth and Black girls in particular to encourage them to be more deviant,
more defiant, and more disobedient. Particularly because the behaviors imag-
ined as such are how the girls show that they have been injured, are being
injured, and are refusing society’s mandate that they be silent about it.
To best support Black girls within the context of the afterlife of slavery, there
are a few suggestions. First, we should identify the role of anti-Blackness and
more largely, the afterlife of slavery, in shaping school policies and practices and
how they affect the girls. Second, this study suggests that policy analysts, teach-
ers, and students should be trained to identify the particularities of Black girls’
experiences to develop policies, practices, relationships, and school cultures that
support the girls, including their efforts to resist conditions of captivity. Third,
following the lead of Black feminist scholars, scholars and practitioners in the
field of education should centralize students’ narratives, particularly Black girls’
stories, surrounding their experiences inside and outside of school.
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I also suggest that we adopt a Black feminist critique of schools by examin-
ing how schools are a part of a larger structure of carcerality, anti-Blackness,
how they intersect with other forms of violence and what this means for girls of
color, and Black girls in particular (Crenshaw, 2012; Roberts, 2011). As
Wilderson (2010) suggests, there is a condition of anti-Blackness that produces
and perhaps relies on violence against Blacks throughout various social spheres
and institutions—the streets, swimming pools, and public education. Black suf-
fering, as Dumas (2014) identifies, is inflicted by schools, their teachers, and
practices. As we analyze school discipline policies and their relationship to
Black suffering, it will be useful to explore anti-Blackness and Black suffering
in schools as a condition within the afterlife of slavery where captivity is policy.
The objective would then be to examine the ways that school policies further
an anti-Black agenda and to create spaces for Black girls, their educators, and
their allies to feel empowered enough to resist captivity.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article.
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Author Biography
Connie Wun is a Research Justice at the Intersections Scholar at Mills College. Her
research focuses on anti-Blackness and the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality
as they relate to violence and school discipline.
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Background/Context Urban educational systems have garnered focused examination as bastions of educational inequity, particularly along race and class cleavages. These systems are often cited as inefficient bureaucratic institutions plagued by financial mismanagement and political corruption that produce dismal achievement outcomes. Contemporary educational research demonstrates that neoliberal education reforms exacerbate racialized inequity, but we are less clear on the terms of this racialized inequity. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study This article explores how we may deepen our conception of ghettoization, as espoused by Jean Anyon and others, and expand what is termed the social context of education to include a broader colonial history of the underdevelopment and control of educational institutions. This article examines the 1999 state-legislated intervention of the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) district, also known as Michigan Public Act 10. The reform transformed the district’s governance structure, which dissolved local elected control over the school system and centralized educative power in the city’s mayor and state governor. The key research question animating this analysis centers understanding the political economic impetus and effects of this educational reform. Engaging an internal colonial analytical framework, this article is a theory-driven analysis of the underlying dynamics that made the state-legislated reform possible. This analysis of the Detroit reform motivates a critical engagement of the colonial logics that have shaped the ontological position of colonial subjects, while conducting research that examines neoliberal urban education reform.
This article highlights the Testimonios of Boricua (Puerto Rican) women in their twenties who were pregnant and parenting in their high school‐age years and whose gender and familial self‐determination and freedom were severely regulated by a suffocating network of colonial state institutions. At the center of this network was school. Mechanized to uphold gendered ideologies and materialities in the repressive campaign against Boricua women, US schooling was the site and the story of state intrusion into the self‐determined life of Testimonialistas. Their Testimonios offer a narrative theorization of the ways in which Boricua women and mothers experienced and resisted the network of colonial schooling, and struggled toward self‐determination for themselves, their children, and their communities.
Traditional definitions and assessments of creativity often neglect to identify the complexity surrounding Black students’ brilliance, leading to lack of access and funding. Further, even when recognized, Black students are often funneled into programs that do not facilitate positive development of their racial-ethnic identity. Through our systematic review of 155 publications, we developed the BlackCreate Framework to illustrate how effective Black creative educational experiences (BCEEs) create fugitive spaces for creative expression and education. Within these spaces, both societal oppression and community assets are explicitly discussed as a part of the creative process, providing students methods for adaptive coping and for addressing systemic inequities. Given these findings, we advocate for consistent funding and support for fugitive spaces to promote Black students’ creativity.
The persisting issue of racial injustice within disciplinary action referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline has been frequently examined and studied across multiple disciplines spanning education, public policy, criminal justice, and others. The racial school discipline crisis is the disproportionate and differential use of exclusionary action against Black children in school. While disproportionate exclusion occurs throughout the educational continuum, early childhood expulsions and suspensions are a growing concern and are linked to further problems in kindergarten and beyond. With national attention from civil rights organizations drawing eyes to the injustices, educational systems are looking to solve the over-use of suspension and expulsion to address student behavior. Behavior analysts are often tasked with addressing and reducing the behavioral concerns of students; however, there is a gap in the behavior analytic literature on racism in schools. Bringing awareness to anti-Black racism in American schooling is an initial step for behavior analysts to take toward dismantling oppressive systems within education.
A signature item that beleaguers most teachers is classroom management. Recognizing the futility of punitive classroom management within school discipline practices, Weinstein and colleagues forged culturally responsive classroom management (CRCM). While nearly 20 years of scholarship highlights the importance of teachers employing CRCM to reduce their reliance on punitive discipline approaches, which are disproportionally skewed against students of color, there exists a gap between educational research and educational policies concerning the use of CRCM in schools. We employed a critical policy analysis to determine the existence of CRCM in student code-of-conduct policies, across all 50 states. Our findings highlight an absence of CRCM in states’ policies, and limited support for the incorporation of CRCM in schools and school districts. Ultimately, an opportunity awaits stakeholders (teachers, school districts, education preparation programs, and policymakers) to reform educational policies and the tools teachers can employ to affirm and sustain students’ learning environments.
In this study, we take a situationally specific approach to understanding how Black girls perceive, process, and respond to a hypothetical social situation. Through this, we aim to contribute to developmental inquiry that resists deficit thinking by foregrounding the voices of Black girls. The current study took place within the participatory culture-specific intervention model and included 22 early adolescent Black girls (fifth–seventh grade). We conducted semi-structured interviews, asking them to respond to a potentially risky hypothetical situation with a male peer they have just met. Thematic analysis revealed three organizing themes: the overall goal of preserving safety and dignity, a growing ability to handle high-stakes interpersonal interactions, and the expectation of empathy and protection from the community around them. These findings challenge stereotypical portrayals of Black girls as hypersexual and aggressive and add to our understanding of the psychology of Black girls by illustrating their adaptive social decision-making.
The purpose of this study was to examine whether school discipline sanctions issued to female students are attributed to their racial background and developmental status and if this relation differs by teacher’s racial/ethnic background and discipline philosophy. Drawing from a sample of 515 practicing educators from the United States, an experimental design was employed to examine if teacher’s discipline decision-making differed by student’s race, student’s developmental status, and teacher’s racial/ethnic background and discipline philosophy. Results suggest that teacher’s racial/ethnic background and discipline philosophy were the most salient predictors of discipline severity. Implications for future research on school discipline and Black girls are discussed.
Colonial education in Canada has been underpinned by Eurocentric ideologies of European ethno-superiority born out of the nineteenth century belief in the moral and cultural superiority of Europe. Settler colonialism imposed colonial theories of knowledge that privileged and superiorized Eurocentric knowledges and denied, denigrated and invalidated Indigenous knowledges and epistemologies such that to this day, Eurocentric educational ideology has mediated and continues to inform what is considered formal education in Canada. This chapter traces the history of colonial education in Canada, its colonizing logics including the colonization of Indigenous knowledge forms and ways of knowing and pedagogies. It identifies instruments of the violence of colonial education and how these structures continue to sustain settler and other forms of colonial education and its self-proclaimed superiority over Indigenous knowledges and epistemologies.
The integration of Indigenous perspectives into schools has been viewed as a positive influence for all learners and specifically works to make education and schooling more relevant to Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and other racialized students. Bringing Elders into schools and incorporating their cultural knowledges into the schooling experience ensures a more culturally relevant and equitable educational experience for Indigenous and other racialized learners. Indigenous Elders being cultural knowledge holders and custodians make the learning environment more welcoming and offer a more inclusive and enriching alternative to hegemonic Eurocentric schooling, allowing for the creation of decolonized social and academic learning spaces for racialized learners. The presence of Indigenous Elders in schools validates the Indigenous body and Indigenous epistemologies as sites of knowing and knowledge production.
Like all other forms of resistance to colonial domination and hegemony, the integration of Indigenous Elders and their cultural knowledges into schools is not without challenges. Integration does not take place on neutral ground as the school is a contested colonial landscape peppered with colonizing ideologies that are often hostile to Indigenous Elders. Colonial formations and logics are fundamentally opposed to decolonizing approaches intrinsic to Indigenous resurgence and decolonization ideologies and practices, including efforts to Indigenize schools and schooling. The incorporation of Indigenous knowledges in schools requires de-centering colonial foundations of education and theories of knowledge production, power and privilege embedded in contemporary educational structures, as well as grappling with questions of complicity and Eurocentric seduction. Despite these challenges, Indigenous communities continue to challenge and resist colonial education and to insist on the right of their children to be educated in their own languages and within their own cultures.
While scholarship on the education of youth behind bars has largely focused on boys, more than one in three youth arrests in the United States is female. Girls Behind Bars sets out to address this imbalance. First, the book offers autobiographies, life-stories, and counter-stories in order to counter simplistic generalizations and empirical prescriptions. Next, the study provides the educational community with critical perspectives that examine empiricist epistemologies and positivist methodologies that label certain groups of girls as delinquent and mark them for punitive and corrective treatment behind bars. Third, the book opens up the discussion on girls' gender, desire, and sexuality by offering a language for these issues absent in educational discourse. Finally, the book supports calls for educators and practitioners in their desire to envision and create transformative spaces that enable young girls behind bars to reclaim their education. Including a foreword by William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, this important and powerful book gives voice to a neglected, silenced, and misrepresented population – young girls behind bars.
Zero Tolerance and the Case of Los Angeles * Discipline before Zero Tolerance, 1800-1950 * Bureaucratizing Discipline in the Blackboard Jungle * Struggle for Control in the 1960s * The Death of in Loco Parentis * Reclaiming School Discipline
The structural and political dimensions of gender violence and mass incarceration are linked in multiple ways. The myriad causes and consequences of mass incarceration discussed herein call for increased attention to the interface between the dynamics that constitute race, gender, and class power, as well as to the way these dynamics converge and rearticulate themselves within institutional settings to manufacture social punishment and human suffering. Beyond addressing the convergences between private and public power that constitute the intersectional dimensions of social control, this Article addresses political failures within the antiracism and antiviolence movements that may contribute to the legitimacy of the contemporary punishment culture, both ideologically and materially.
Between Good and Ghetto reflects the social world of inner city African American girls and how they manage threats of personal violence. Drawing on personal encounters, traditions of urban ethnography, Black feminist thought, gender studies, and feminist criminology, Nikki Jones provides a richly descriptive and compassionate account, revealing multiple strategies used to navigate interpersonal and gender-specific violence and how gendered dilemmas of their adolescence are reconciled.