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Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Program: Examining Black Girls’ Experiences at a Predominately White School

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Abstract

A plethora of research on voluntary school choice programs and the impact on student’s outcomes have been documented. However, lacking are the experiences of students of color attending predominately White schools that are part of these voluntary school choice programs. Using the integrative model for the developmental competencies of minority children as a theoretical lens, the authors explored the racial and gendered socio-emotional experiences of Black adolescent girls (N = 15, Mage = 13.59) who were participants in a voluntary school choice program. Inductive analytic techniques were used to identify themes based on the lived experiences of Black girls within this context. Three themes emerged that centered the intersectionality of race, class, and gender in their experiences including: (1) racial and cultural stereotypes; (2) differential discipline; and (3) academic expectations. Directions for future research and implications for Black girls, who participate in voluntary school choice programs are discussed.
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The Urban Review
Issues and Ideas in Public Education
ISSN 0042-0972
Urban Rev
DOI 10.1007/s11256-018-0464-y
Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Program:
Examining Black Girls’ Experiences at a
Predominately White School
Sheretta T.Butler-Barnes, Charles
H.Lea, Seanna Leath & Rosa Colin
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Urban Rev
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-018-0464-y
1 3
Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Program: Examining
Black Girls’ Experiences ataPredominately White
School
SherettaT.Butler‑Barnes1 · CharlesH.LeaIII2· SeannaLeath3·
RosaColin1
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018
Abstract A plethora of research on voluntary school choice programs and the
impact on student’s outcomes have been documented. However, lacking are the
experiences of students of color attending predominately White schools that are
part of these voluntary school choice programs. Using the integrative model for the
developmental competencies of minority children as a theoretical lens, the authors
explored the racial and gendered socio-emotional experiences of Black adolescent
girls (N = 15, Mage = 13.59) who were participants in a voluntary school choice pro-
gram. Inductive analytic techniques were used to identify themes based on the lived
experiences of Black girls within this context. Three themes emerged that centered
the intersectionality of race, class, and gender in their experiences including: (1)
racial and cultural stereotypes; (2) differential discipline; and (3) academic expecta-
tions. Directions for future research and implications for Black girls, who participate
in voluntary school choice programs are discussed.
Keywords Black girls· Gender· Voluntary choice programs· Desegregation
* Sheretta T. Butler-Barnes
sbarnes22@wustl.edu
Rosa Colin
r.colin@wustl.edu
1 George Warren Brown School ofSocial Work, One Brookings Drive, Campus Box1196,
St.Louis, MO63130, USA
2 School ofWork, University ofWashington, 4101 15th Avenue NE, Seattle, WA98105, USA
3 Combined Program inEducation andPsychology, University ofMichigan, 610 East University
Avenue, AnnArbor, MI48109, USA
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Introduction
The goodness is compromised by the inherent dignity of having to raise
early and travel outside of your neighborhood to have access to the qual-
ity educational resources that most White, middle class children experience
within a short distance of their homes. But once inside the schools, Black
students find these schools to be culturally, socially, and institutionally
organized in ways that amplify and reify their subordination. (O’Connor
2016, pp. 421–422)
The origins of the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Program (VICC) stems from
the school desegregation plan that began in the late 1950s and 1960s. Within the
state of Missouri, the premise of the school desegregation program was a direct
result of the unfair equity and resources in inner-city schools—at the time rooted
deep within northern and southern values (Wells and Crain 1999). The broken
promises after the Brown versus Board of Education decision was apparent within
the state of Missouri. As a result, residential segregation was a catalyst for school
desegregation, leaving Black children in poverty stricken environments with little
to no resources in their public schools (see Rothstein 2014). The hope of school
desegregation was to increase the educational opportunities for Black students
and improve race relations in America (Holland 2012; Mickelson and Heath
1999; Miller 1989; Stephan 1978). Desegregation policies attempted to dismantle
the unequal educational systems that existed in separate public school districts
for Black and White students (Hunter 2004; Horsford and McKenzie 2008; Wells
etal. 2005). The assumption underlying these efforts was that by providing access
to learning resources that were commonly relegated to schools with mostly White
students, Black students would experience significant educational gains and the
Black-White student achievement gap would be eliminated (Crosby 2012; Don-
nor 2012; Horsford and McKenzie 2008; Mickelson and Heath 1999; Wells etal.
2005).
To date, there is a plethora of research supporting the benefits of school deseg-
regation for children, adolescents, and their families. Most of this literature sug-
gests that desegregation can enhance lower-income minority youth’s academic
achievement, especially for those who were segregated in schools with fewer
resources and inexperienced school teachers (e.g., Rumberger and Palardy 2005;
Wells and Crain 1994; Wortman and Bryant 1985). However, despite the noted
benefits of desegregation programs, very little research has considered the impact
of desegregation on adolescents’ socio-emotional development. Additionally,
there is relatively little theory or research that considers how Black student’s
beliefs and experiences related to their social identities (e.g., race, gender, and
social class) can help explain variation in their academic engagement and psy-
chological adjustment in these desegregated school settings (e.g., Liu and Taylor
2005).
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Contextualizing School Desegregation: VICC Programs inMissouri
After the Brown versus Board of Education decision in 1954, schooling dis-
tricts across the US were required by law to desegregate their institutions by
race. Before this, schools serving Black students received fewer resources and
were almost exclusively taught by Black educators; housing discrimination and
Jim Crow laws contributed to similar racial isolation outside of schools (Guryan
2004). After the Supreme Court ruled segregated schools “inherently unequal,”
federal courts implemented a variety of desegregation plans for school districts
across the United States (Guryan 2004; Wells and Crain 1999). One mechanism
that was used to implement school desegregation in some states such as Missouri,
were voluntary interdistrict desegregation programs (VICC). VICC programs, or
more commonly referred to as “voluntary choice programs,” support the effort
to desegregate and racially diversify schools by providing expanded education
options to parents of Black students from urban communities through free trans-
portation to participating suburban school districts (Grooms 2014).
Although these programs were implemented as early as 1965, some schools
resisted desegregation efforts to the extent that additional court rulings and policy
enforcement was required to restructure schools. For example, the Missouri v. Jen-
kins (1995) case changed the educational landscape in the state of Missouri after the
US Supreme Court ruled that the state was responsible for promoting desegrega-
tion school policies (i.e., funding education programs, increasing teacher salaries,
providing transportation) to improve the educational facilities and programs avail-
able to Black children and families within St. Louis City (Barnett 1981; Heaney and
Uchitelle 2004; Wells and Crain 1999). Following this ruling, a VICC program was
implemented to facilitate the transfer of urban city students to suburban school dis-
tricts and suburban students to city magnet schools. To date, there is little research
literature documenting the voices of those affected by the desegregation plan (for
exception, see Morris 2001). Morris (2001) used critical race theory to explore
Black educator’s views of the desegregation plan. Overall, Black teachers espoused
the belief that desegregation ultimately protected the interests of White families and
still placed the onus to attain equitable education on Black families. For example,
one teacher stated that she has, “never been a proponent of sending Black children
to sit with White children as a way to help them learn … magnet programs can be
beneficial to all children and could have been done in all-Black schools” (p. 588).
There were also numerous debates surrounding the extent to which Black chil-
dren benefitted from the transfer plan. A report by the Citizen’s Commission on
Civil Rights (1997) concluded that test scores for Black transfer students were rela-
tively the same for students who remained in all-Black schools, and although gradu-
ation rates increased for Black students in the desegregated schools, these students
were also from a higher income bracket than those who remained in the all-Black
schools. The report did not control for this discrepancy in socioeconomic status,
which Morris (2001) highlights as a well-known mitigating factor affecting student
outcomes. Decades later, there is little overall consensus on the effect of desegre-
gation for Black students. While some research suggests that desegregated school
programs like the voluntary choice program in Missouri contributed to improved
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academic outcomes among Black students (Saatcioglu 2010), there is also literature
suggesting that school desegregation as a physical and economic act did not inte-
grate schools socially and culturally (Brown 2016) and presented unique challenges
for Black students as racial minorities in a predominantly White school context
(Chapman 2007; Diamond and Huguley 2014;Fine etal. 1997; Wells etal. 2004).
Black Students’ Experiences Within Desegregated Schools
The long-standing debate in research literature concerning the value of school
desegregation has centered on the extent to which Black students’ experiences have
been improved by “equal” access to educational opportunities, the original intent
behind the Brown versus Board ruling. An increasing body of work suggests that
racially desegregated schools relate to positive academic outcomes among Black
students such as higher achievement in school (Crain and Mahard 1983; Levin 1975;
Schofield 2001; Wells 2000) and higher graduation rates (e.g., Liu and Taylor 2005;
Wells and Crain 1997). While academic success and graduation rates are relevant
given the overarching goal to provide quality education for students of color through
desegregation programs, very few research studies focus on the experiences of youth
of color and their psychological well-being within school choice programs and
racially mixed environments. Prior scholarship suggests that educational settings are
an important developmental context to examine the socioemotional and psychologi-
cal well-being of adolescents who are navigating their identity beliefs around racial
group membership (Byrd and Chavous 2009; Goodenow 1993; Shochet etal. 2011;
Singh etal. 2010).
A few studies note the importance of school desegregation in promoting more
positive intergroup attitudes among students and less tolerance for excluding others
based on identity differences (Graham etal. 2014; Tropp and Prenovost 2008). For
example, Orfield etal. (2008) state that, “integrated learning experiences challenge
racial prejudice and stereotype formation and allow for the formation of cross-racial
friendships, enabling students to gain comfort living and working across racial and
ethnic lines” (p. 100). However, these studies focus on benefits for all students in
desegregated schools, rather than highlighting the unique experiences of Black stu-
dents or youth of color who are transferred into school districts with the intent of
racial diversification. This all-inclusive focus may obscure issues tied to Black stu-
dent’s identity-related experiences within racially diverse school settings. Accord-
ing to Solórzano et al. (2000), students of color in predominantly White settings
commonly experience racial discrimination that leads to alienation and emotional
exhaustion. Studies have shown that this type of discrimination strongly impacts
adolescents’ identity development processes and their ability to form a cohesive
sense of self, which is a critical task of adolescent development (Gaylord-Harden
etal. 2012; Milner and Howard 2004).
One major critique of desegregation plans was the assumption that integrating
students in schools would lead to intergroup cohesion and productive dialogues and
interactions around race, cultural differences, and diversity. Instead, research sug-
gests that there is an absence of discussion about race in desegregated schools in
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ways that allow negative stereotypes and racial tensions among peers and teachers to
go unchallenged (Wells etal. 2004; Lewis and Diamond 2015). A number of stud-
ies have documented the prevalence of racial discrimination experiences among
Black students in predominantly White school contexts (Fine et al. 1997; Holme
et al. 2006; Lewis and Diamond 2015), which suggests that racial discrimination
in school decreases an individual’s sense of belonging and harms their socioemo-
tional well-being (e.g., Hope etal. 2015; Ginwright 2010; Griffin and Allen 2006).
In addition, Gaylord-Harden etal. (2012) indicated that experiencing racial discrim-
ination in educational settings is associated with increased negative perceptions of
one’s ethnic group, which may adversely affect adolescents’ identity development if
students of color begin to internalize prejudicial messages received from peers and
school personnel. Studies have also shown that negative perceptions of one’s racial
group can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety as well as decreases in self-
esteem and psychological resiliency (Cemalcilar 2010; Edwards and Mullis 2001;
Hope etal. 2015; Singh etal. 2010; Stephan 1978; Tatum 2004; Voelkl 1997; Wong
etal. 2003).
Thus, an important aspect of studying the experiences of Black students who
participate in voluntary choice programs in suburban districts involves an empirical
focus on their psychosocial well-being and adjustment within these new school con-
texts. For instance, Holland (2012) explored how Black girls navigated the process
of social integration within a majority White high school. Holland (2012) found that
Black girls reported feeling uncomfortable because of the racism they experienced
from their peers and teachers, and that these girls did not have the same access to
social integration as Black boys, who were able to gain social status as athletes and
the embodiment of the urban “hip hop star.” Instead, Black girls were character-
ized as hypersexual and lacking mainstream social habits, which influenced the way
teachers and peers perceived and treated them in the classroom (Archer-Banks and
Behar-Horenstein 2012; Morris 2007). For example, Black girls were considered
“less approachable and more hostile” (p. 113) than Black boys, which led to social
exclusion by White peers. Still, research on such experiences through the voices of
Black youth, especially girls, attending desegregated schools is currently lacking.
Intersectional Identities: Race, Class, andGender Within School
Desegregation Programs
Although there is some literature to suggest that Black students’ academic and psy-
chosocial adjustment is challenged in school settings that devalue youth of color
(Griffin and Allen 2006; Morris 2007; Solórzano et al. 2000), there is a dearth of
scholarship that considers the interaction of race, social class, and gendered experi-
ences for adolescents who participate in voluntary choice desegregation programs.
Prior research indicates that Black students lack a strong sense of belonging in pre-
dominantly White schools and oftentimes feel racially discriminated against by the
administration, peers, and teachers (Cogburn etal. 2011; Crosby 2012; Hope etal.
2015; Horsford and McKenzie 2008; Miller 1989). This suggests that desegregation
programs fail to foster students’ access to integrated learning opportunities. Instead,
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Black students are re-segregated through practices such as tracking, where students
of color are overrepresented in lower-level classes (Horsford and McKenzie 2008;
Oakes 1995; Oakes et al. 1997). Thus, the unintended consequences of desegrega-
tion policies ironically relegate Black students to racially separated learning con-
texts that disadvantage students of color in similar ways to schools before volun-
tary choice programs were implemented (Crosby 2012; Horsford 2009; Horsford
and McKenzie 2008; Miller 1989; Wells etal. 2005). Quiroz (2013) suggests that
desegregation programs raise important questions about the meaning of diversity,
the appropriation of learning spaces, and how such educational programs are part
of broader processes of gentrification that marginalize the very students they were
implemented to assist.
The research on gender and socioeconomic experiences for Black adolescents has
been less clear. With regards to the socioeconomic status literature, the research sug-
gests that school desegregation and voluntary choice programs benefit youth from
lower-income and/or poverty backgrounds, as these students often have little to no
adequate resources in their neighborhood schools (e.g., Wells and Crain 1994; Wort-
man and Bryant 1985). However, Rumberger and Palardy (2005) found that after
controlling for the effects of school policies and practices (e.g., teacher expecta-
tions and students feeling safe at school), socioeconomic status of the school had
no impact on academic achievement. Thus, context matters in this case, irrespective
of the socioeconomic status of the school. Some argue that school choice programs
often perpetuate segregation despites its good intentions, often being highly segre-
gated by race and socioeconomic status, leading to segregation by intellectual ability
(e.g., Mickelson etal. 2008).
The empirical research on the gendered experiences of adolescents of color is
also scant. Most research literature examines parental school choice of their child
depending on gender (e.g., Ball and Vincent 1998; Stambach and David 2005).
Although the knowledge of how parents choose schools for children based on gen-
der is important, to our knowledge, there have been few research studies on how
school desegregation policies and/or voluntary choice programs impact girls and
boys of color differently (see Grant 1984). For the past couple of decades, there has
been an upsurge in research literature on Black boys and their schooling experiences
(e.g., Davis 2003; Davis and Jordan 1995; Howard 2008; McMillian 2003; Roder-
ick 2003; Stinson 2006), while for Black girls, less empirical research has examined
their school experiences (for exceptions, see Grant 1984; Horvat and Antonio 1999;
Morris 2007). According to Brown (2011), Black male students are considered more
“at-risk” for adverse school and life outcomes (e.g., incarceration, violent deaths,
and unemployment), so Black girls and their educational experiences and needs are
subsumed within the larger narrative on how to save Black boys.
This underdeveloped focus on Black girls’ experiences makes it difficult to under-
stand the unique factors that play a role in their learning experiences. It also chal-
lenges the development and application of theoretical and conceptual models that
address the lived experiences of Black girls. Grant (1984) explored the experiences
of Black girls in desegregated classrooms and found that teachers were more likely
to describe Black girls as more helpful and socially mature in comparison to White
girls who were described as helpful and academically mature. Black girls were also
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more likely to be rated as average in comparison to other students in the classroom.
More specifically, Black girls were rated as better performing than Black boys, but
lower performing in comparison to White peers, highlighting the utility of fram-
ing students’ experiences from an intersectional perspective. A few other studies
examine how Black girls are faring in educational settings and find that although
their outcomes may outpace Black boys’, they are still burdened by inequitable dis-
ciplinary experiences (Blake et al. 2011), pejorative stereotypes that undermine
their academic identity as students (Fordham 1993), and negative race-related treat-
ment from educators that may jeopardize their investment in schooling processes
(Froyum 2009). In general, these studies also fail to highlight how Black girls resist
race-related mistreatment in school and the ways in which they draw upon indi-
vidual characteristics and cultural assets to remain motivated in academic contexts.
We build on this body of work by exploring how Black girls construct meaning to
make sense of their schooling experiences in a voluntary interdistrict choice (VICC)
program.
The Present Study
The current study extends the limited research available concerning Black girls’
experiences in school desegregation programs. Given the common sociocultural
experiences of racism and discrimination encountered by children of color in pre-
dominantly White settings (Lynn and Parker 2006), we argue that these school
contexts may perpetuate negative identity-related biases and stereotypes that affect
various developmental competencies among Black adolescents (i.e., psychologi-
cal well-being and academic achievement). School environments serve as racial-
ized developmental contexts that may promote and/or hinder adolescents’ positive
and negative identity experiences (Coll etal. 1996). This process may be more pro-
nounced for Black students, and more specifically, Black girls who attend predomi-
nantly White schools (e.g., Ladson-Billings and Tate 1995).
The present study builds upon Grant’s (1984) work by exploring Black girls’
participation in a VICC program in the state of Missouri. Specifically, we sought
to better understand how Black girls describe their experiences within the context
of a predominately White school from an intersectional perspective that integrates
race, socioeconomic status, and gender. Due to the interconnected nature of race and
gender, our specific research question includes: In describing their racialized and
gendered experiences at a predominately White school, how do Black girls perceive
their participation in a VICC program to influence their schooling experiences?
Guiding Framework
In further understanding the experiences of Black girls within predominately schools
we drew on Coll etal. (1996) integrative model for the developmental competencies
of minority children. This model highlights the unique social position of adolescents
(i.e., race, social class, ethnicity, and gender), which is mediated through adoles-
cents’ experiences with racism, prejudice, discrimination, and oppression. In turn,
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these experiences shape their environment through segregation experiences (e.g.,
residential, economic, social, and psychological) which constructs adolescents’
social interactions within schools, neighborhoods, or healthcare settings.
Using this model, we can situate Black girls’ experiences within context. One of
the major premises of the model is the way in which institutions promote positive
youth development via one’s social position in society. As a result, youth of color
may be in contextual settings (e.g., schools) that also hinder positive development.
Thus, we use this model to underscore the contextual setting in which Black girls are
situated. Being a participant of a desegregated or “choice” program is contextually
different, as students of color are bused from their neighborhoods to another neigh-
borhood that is racially and in some cases socio-economically different than their
own. Based on their social position (socio-economically diverse group of Black
girls) how does the host school respond to their Blackness and what are their experi-
ences as Black girls within this context? Moreover, the relevance of the model in our
study is to understand how participating in a desegregation program (macro-level)
shapes Black girls (social position) segregation experiences with the school set-
ting (promoting and/or inhibiting environment). Coll’s etal. (1996) framework also
allows for further understanding into how being an active participant in this program
impacts Black adolescent girls’ experiences at a predominately White school.
In the current study, we also sought to underscore the socio-economic diversity
of Black girls. Specifically, when initially developed, the school desegregation pro-
gram was comprised of children of color who had little to no access to resources
both socio-economically and educationally. Because of residential segregation these
Black families were excluded from educational, health, and employment opportuni-
ties. Adolescents often attended schools that were under-resourced and located in
impoverished neighborhoods (Wells and Crain 1999). We therefore speculate that
parents and/or adolescents’ chose to participate in the VICC program for various
reasons, such as a lack of educational resources within city schools, racial integra-
tion, and/or parents’ own schooling experiences within city schools that mirrors
some of the concerns of parents in Missouri during the late 1970s and 80s (Wells
and Crain 1999). However, missing are the present-day experiences of Black girls
from socio-economically diverse backgrounds who are participating in the VICC
program.
Method
Design, Sampling, andRecruitment
To better understand Black girls within this context, we used an inductive analytic
approach (Creswell 2012). Constructivism guided the study, as this interpretive
framework posits that meaning is subjectively constructed as individuals interact
with their experiences and prior knowledge or ideas (Berger and Luckmann 1967;
Lock and Strong 2010). As such, a sample of 7th and 8th grade Black adolescent
girls from a suburban, White school district were selected to participate in the study.
The principal investigator (first author) had been in contact with the suburban school
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district over the year, and helped to facilitate recruitment. Specifically, with sup-
port from the school administration, the first author met with students during non-
academic hours at the school and explained the study. Student information packets
were sent home and families interested returned the forms. The principal investiga-
tor contacted parents and explained the study and answered any questions and/or
concerns parents had about their child participating. Upon receiving verbal, parental
consent for their child to participate, as well as parents’ permission to contact their
adolescents directly, the data collection team, which was composed of five Black
women (a developmental psychologist and four master-level social work graduate
students), contacted the young women via telephone to explain the study and obtain
their verbal assent to participate. The entire research team consisted of a total eight
members which included the above data collectors and three additional analysts who
were also master-level social work Black women graduate students.
Sample characteristics
As Table1 displays, a total of 15 Black adolescent girls participated in the study.
Their mean age was 13.59, and grade point average ranged from 2.00 to 3.43. The
combined averaged reported GPA was 2.65, which is equivalent to a C average. On
average, their parents reported attending some college, and a majority was married.
Additionally, the average reported yearly income among the participant’s parents
ranged from $30,000 to $39,999.
The students were recruited from school districts that participated in the VICC
program (all names are pseudonyms). Specifically, participants were recruited
from two middle schools that were part of a predominately White school district
Table 1 Demographic characteristics of the 15 participants
Participant name Age Grade point
average
Family income Parents educational level
Brianna 14.34 2.83 $30,000–$39,999 High school diploma
Ashley 14.15 2.51 $50,000–$59,999 Some graduate school
Harper 14.34 2.93 $30,000–$39,999 High school diploma
Erica 13.01 2.88 $20,000–$29,999 Some college
Kendra 13.24 2.40 $30,000–$39,999 High school diploma
Nia 13.49 2.00 $20,000–$29,999 Master’s degree
Tasha 12.96 2.08 $20,000–$29,999 Master’s degree
Keesha 13.39 2.52 $20,000–$29,999 College diploma
Neisha 12.51 2.55 $10,000–$19,999 Some graduate school
Nicki 12.53 2.52 $60,000–$69,999 Some college
Imani 12.72 2.75 $30,000–$39,999 Some college
April 13.37 2.95 $80,000–$89,999 College diploma
Shawnta 13.90 3.43 < $10,000 Some high school
Aaliyah 14.42 2.34 $30,000–$39,999 College diploma
Rasheeda 13.46 2.78 $30,000–$39,999 College diploma
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in the county. The racial and ethnic composition of the schools varied. At Sledge
Middle School the population was 80% White, 2% Black, 13% Asian, 1% Ameri-
can Indian, and 1% multiracial. At Poppins Middle School the population was
90% were White, 2.2% were African American, 2.6% were Hispanic, 3.9% were
Asian, 1% were other (e.g., American Indian, Pacific Islander, and multi-racial).
The girls in the study identified as being Black American or African American
and self-reported as such.
Data Collection
A total of eight focus groups were conducted with 15 Black adolescent girls. A
semi-structured interview guide was used to stimulate conversations with the
girls about their racialized and gendered experiences in their classrooms, and
their attitudes and beliefs surrounding their academic performance. Specifically,
the research team devised a comprehensive list of questions that were informed
by the research literature (e.g., Martin 2000). Questions were centered on racial
identity, racial and gender discrimination, and achievement attitudes and beliefs.
For instance, sample questions included:
1. What is it like at your school?
2. How do your teachers treat you at school?
3. What are your experiences at your school? How are you and your peers (friends)
treated?
A demographic background of each participant was also collected. This
included questions about their age, participation in extra-curricular activities,
parents’ marital status, parental income, parental higher education, parental race/
ethnicity, and parental employment. Parents were also asked to complete the
demographic questionnaire.
Each focus group was conducted at a local university and was arranged out-
side of school time. Upon each adolescent’s arrival to the university, a member of
the research team obtained written assent and consent from each participant (i.e.,
adolescent and parent), and reviewed confidentiality guidelines. Each focus group
lasted approximately 45–60min, and the participants received a $20.00 gift card
to Barnes and Noble after completion of each focus group session. With the par-
ticipants’ permission, all three focus groups were audio recorded.
Demographics
Demographic background variables included questions on adolescent’s age, par-
ticipation in extra-curricular activities, parents’ marital status, parental income,
parental higher education, parental race/ethnicity, and parental employment. Par-
ents were asked to complete the demographic questionnaire.
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Focus Group Interviews
A semi-structured focus group interview protocol was used to stimulate conversa-
tions about the girls’ experiences in the school context.
Data Analysis
Following data collection, audio recordings of each focus group session were out-
sourced for transcription. Once the focus groups were transcribed, the research
team reviewed the transcripts to make any changes (considering dialect) that may
have been missed or reported wrong. This was especially important to capture,
verbatim, the girl’s experiences. The focus group transcripts were then uploaded
into Atlas.ti, a qualitative data analysis software program. Inductive analytic tech-
niques, which included coding, constant comparisons, and memoing were used
to analyze the data, as this approach allowed the research team to examine con-
versational patterns that illuminated the participant’s attitudes and beliefs con-
cerning their racialized and gendered experiences (Charmaz 2000; Strauss and
Corbin 1998). In particular, the research team reviewed each transcript separately
to identify emergent codes. We then developed several iterations of the identi-
fied codes and worked collaboratively to define each code. After reviewing and
confirming the entire list of codes and definitions, the research team re-read each
transcript and met to reconcile any disagreements. As new codes emerged, the
research team met to discuss definitions and to obtain a consensus. When neces-
sary, codes and definitions were modified, in order to more accurately capture the
participants’ voices. Following the initial coding phases, we then identified the
most frequent and significant codes and clustered them into conceptual categories
of similar codes to identify our analytic themes. Pseudonyms are used to maintain
confidentiality.
Results
In describing their racialized and gendered experiences, the adolescent Black
girls perceived their predominately White school to have a negative racial cli-
mate; that is, the schools’ norms and values around race and interracial interac-
tions. Specifically, the girls mentioned experiencing racial micro aggressions that
ranged from phenotypic features to verbal abuse, being racially stereotyped by
their peers, and in some instances stating they knew teachers were treating them
differently because they were Black corroborating previous studies document-
ing the experiences of Black girls and racism (e.g., see Joseph etal. 2016). As a
result, the girls felt they had to work hard in this educational setting to prove they
belonged, as well as belittle or ignore their racialized experiences to ensure they
excelled academically. Three themes center around the salience of girls racial
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Table 2 Themes and subcodes categories
Theme: racial and cultural stereotypes
Subcodes
Racist experiences Being self-aware and self-conscious of the negative treatment of
the student based on their racial group membership. Students
are aware of the messages that are offensive to them because
of their racial groups membership (being call the N word, hair
texture, etc.)
City versus county The comparison of city resources to county resources. This
also involves students discussing the positive and/or negative
expectations, perceptions, schooling experiences, stereotypes,
and classism (SES) differences between students/families from
the city versus the county
Proving themselves Constantly proving themselves in the school setting. At times
this meant working harder than non-Black students in academ-
ics. Students have this responsibility to prove themselves and
to others that they belong
Coping mechanism Involves positive and/or negative coping responses to behavior
and actions of others within the school setting. This involves
accepting offensive behavior and handling it by themselves
and not informing authority figures. This can also involve
offensive comments. Positive coping can involve confronta-
tion and/or informing authority figures. Negative coping can
involve fighting, threatening, or internalizing actions and not
speaking out against it
Theme: differential discipline
Subcodes
School racial climate The school culture and environment around racial and ethnic
minority issues as it pertains to the well-being of students of
color. This includes statements about institutional racism, dif-
ferential treatment based on race and gender, and how Black
culture is embraced in school settings
Differential treatment Differentiating treatment by those recognized as “socially
acceptable” and those who are not based on appearance,
beliefs, and activities
School discipline Differential treatment by teachers, staff, and administrators when
dealing with Black students versus White students
Theme: academic expectations
Subcodes
Negative teacher support Involves negative or lack of support from teachers in the aca-
demic setting. This also involves teachers whose actions are
perceived as intrusive on parents
Treatment based on intelligence Treating individuals with respect and admiration based on their
perceived intelligence
Misconception of Black intelligence Student’s inability to perceive their Black peers as intelligent
individuals. Associating intelligence with Whiteness/White
peers
Stigma of the “Hood” Student’s stigma about their neighborhood school (city), which
is considered “hood.” These communities are defined as low
performing and have low behavioral and academic expecta-
tions for adolescents
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and ethnic group membership at their predominately White school, including: (1)
racial and cultural stereotypes (2) differential discipline and (3) academic expec-
tations (see Table2).
Racial andCultural Stereotypes
Several studies have noted the experiences of Black students attending predomi-
nately White schools (e.g., Carter 2006, 2007; Horvat and Antonio 1999; O’Connor
1997). For instance, Carter (2007) conducted a year-long qualitative study exam-
ining nine high-achieving Black students attending a predominately White school.
Results revealed that Black students used “safe spaces” to cope with racial discrimi-
nation experiences within the school context. Through these groups, they made
themselves more visible and embraced their Blackness (reaffirming their racial and
ethnic identity). These students often sought out these experiences because of the
negative treatment within the school context. Horvat and Antonio (1999) conducted
a qualitative investigation examining the experiences of African American girls
attending elite predominately White schools and found that Black girls sense of self
was threatened, because of negative statements about their hair and performance in
the classroom.
In our work, we found similar patterns. For instance, we illustrate the partici-
pants’ consciousness and awareness of the stereotypical ways in which Black cul-
ture is perceived and embraced in this school setting. For instance, during one focus
group, Briana and Erica shared that they have been called a “nigger” more than 10
times during their participation in the desegregation program. Although Harper
stated that she was a new student at the school this year, she also expressed hear-
ing the word “nigger” several times. Briana further noted the normativity of being
called a nigger, as she expressed, “Well I hear it a lot … they say it a lot like Black
kids walking around.” However, when delving deeper into the use of the “N” word,
the participants further explained that non-Black students were using the word as an
attempt to identify with the Black culture. In other words, they generally perceived
that non-Black students were not directly calling them a nigger, but assuming it was
part of Black culture.
Interviewer: Can I ask a question? Are they calling you the N word, like they’re
saying it to your face? Or do they say it when you guys are like
around?
Briana: Mm-hmm, Dillon do
Ashley: They don’t call us it, they just say it
Interviewer: They just say it
Erica: Like, “What’s up my nigga?” And stuff like that
Interviewer: And what do you all say?
Briana: See they’re calling us that
Harper: They don’t say it to me though
Briana: That’s you
Erica: They say it to us
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Ashley: It’s in between
Interviewer: How do you feel about that?
Ashley: I don’t take it to the head
Briana: I don’t take it too seriously, like oh now I’m comparing—nothing like
that, but I’ll still be like—I’m about to shoot you
Erica: [Laughter] Like I’ll be like—I just be like hold up
Interviewer: Do you say that to them though or do you just kind of have a look on
your face? Do you let it ride?
Ashley: I just let it go. I mean … just let it go
As illustrated in the above example, there were various ways the participants
coped with being called the “N” word, ranging from ignoring the comments, not
taking them too seriously, or being angered by them. Yet, despite the range of
responses, the girl’s statements, “they don’t call us it, they just say it” and “I don’t
take it too seriously,” illuminates the extent to which they became desensitized to
the negative racial climate within this school setting. Furthermore, although Bri-
ana noted the normativity of being called a nigger, she perceived that her White
teachers’ and White peers’ thoughts about her and other Black students are based
on her experience as being an outsider, as she also expressed, “they don’t actually
like say the N word to our faces, but I know they think it.”
In addition to being called the “N” word, the participants also explained that
there was a clear divide between city and county residents that was apparent to
them based on them being bused to school and residing in the inner city high-
lighting socio-economic status. In the following example, Briana and Kendra dif-
ferentiate between city and county students and schools, when asked if they were
proud to be Black:
Interviewer: Okay, so I’m going to go around and ask each of you and I’m going
to start with you? Are you proud to be Black?
Briana: Yes
Interviewer: How so
Briana: ‘Cause I’m the color I am, it ain’t like it’s gonna change. [Laughter]
Interviewer: So, you’re proud of yourself even if you’re in that school context [pre-
dominately White school]. Okay what about you?
Kendra: Same way like—Like a lot of them think just because we live in the
city it’s not like we’re broke, pretty much because I can tell how
they—when they throwing gang signs and think it’s funny and I’m
like we really don’t do that
Interviewer: Hmm
Kendra: Don’t go to the city. You will get shot. [Laughter]. We not over there
in Forest Park where the big houses are, just cause we are not there. I
mean it’s not like we are poor
While both Briana and Kendra express that they are proud to be Black, they
were also aware of the socioeconomic (SES) differences between them and the
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other students that reside in the county; an affluent suburban neighborhood. Addi-
tionally, the girl’s statements, “it’s not like we’re broke” and “I mean it’s not
like we’re poor,” highlights that they, like many participants, felt the stereotypes
attributed to them based on where they are from was inaccurate. This was also
problematic as some of the Black girls resided in middle class neighborhoods.
Additionally, as a result of the negative, stereotypical perceptions students and
teachers often held about Black culture, the participants often felt they had to prove
themselves in this school setting. Kendra, in discussing the negative way she was
treated based on her being bused to school from the inner city helps to illustrate this
finding, as she states:
“Yeah, you have to work harder to prove yourself…. Just cause were darker,
hair is different … they just treat us like we are not there sometime…. Just
cause we are not from around here [the county] doesn’t mean we come from
nothing. They [the students] throw up gang signs and I am like, if you come to
my neighborhood and do that, watch what is gone happen.
Due to the treatment Kendra experienced given her racial group membership and
residence, she, like all of the girls, felt she had to “work harder” in this school set-
ting to dispel negative perceptions held about Black culture and to remain visible.
Moreover, her response to White students throwing gang signs at her highlights the
offensive nature of these racialized experiences, as her statement, “if you come to
my neighborhood and do that, watch what is gon happen,” points to the fact that
consequences would likely accompany these types of interracial interactions if they
were to occur in a setting that is predominately Black.
Differential Discipline
Blake etal. (2011) found that Black girls were disproportionally overrepresented in
behavioral infractions, with Black girls overrepresented in all discipline sanctions
(e.g., improper dress, truancy, and disobedience) in comparison to White and Latina
girls. A recent report, “Unlocking the Opportunity for African American Girls”, also
highlighted the disproportionate rate of discipline of African American girls nation-
ally in comparison to other racial and ethnic minority girls and some boys—with
Black girls receiving more in school and out of school suspension (Smith-Evans
etal. 2014). Other studies note that Black girls are perceived as loud and talking
back (Morris 2007) and are more likely to be surveilled (Wun 2016). Our findings
contribute to this work as we found similar patterns of unfair disciplinary actions in
comparison to White adolescents within their school. Black girls in our study also
noted the behavioral expectations of being a city kid that was a reflection of their
socioeconomic status.
The second theme, Differential Discipline, elucidates the unfair treatment the
participants received from their teachers because of their racial group membership.
Specifically, the girls explained that there were differences in disciplinary actions
administered by teachers in the school setting that often favored White students, as
they felt White students were less likely to be reprimanded for their behavior. For
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example, in the following dialogue, Briana, Erica, and Nia discuss the differential
discipline Black students receive for their behaviors, compared to White students:
Interviewer: Does it bother you when someone doesn’t get in trouble and you do
the same thing and you get in trouble?
Kendra: I don’t get in trouble
Briana: Yeah, it did bother me a little bit
Erica: Like we get in trouble but with White kids [Cameron] it is different
Interviewer: Cameron is what?
Erica: White
Interviewer: Okay
Briana: And they’ll be pulling each other hair
Nia: All we do was hitting each other. They be dragging each other in the
hall
Participants in another focus group also discuss how the differential treatment
Black students receive from their teachers and peers negatively influences the
schools’ climate. For instance, when asked how Black students are treated at Pop-
pins Middle School, Tasha and other students expressed:
Tasha: … the White kids, sometimes they look at me some type of way or they
will move away from me or talk about me other White girls
Keesha: Once an Indian boy told me that he didn’t like Blacks and he cussed at
me. It didn’t hurt my feelings though, because after that I thought he
was really stupid for disrespecting me
Neisha: Some Caucasian people say that they don’t like African Americans
because they mean, but they mean for saying that
Nicki: Yes! Ms. Tree cusses us out and treats us different in punishments,
rights, and more
Tasha: Yes, all the time
Imani: Sometimes [Black] kids are treated differently by kids and the teachers
because they think that because of your race you are not as smart or as
good or can do the things they [White students] do
April: Yes, they are so racist to Black people. Why is this race stuff going on?
They need to stop this stuff
Aaliyah: Yes, Ms. Tree treats the African Americans different especially when it
comes to the dress code
Rasheeda: Yes, sometimes the Caucasians might get in trouble for the same thing
African American gets in trouble for but they get less consequences
while we get more consequences for the same thing
The statements above highlight the unique experiences of Black girls within
a predominately White school. The participants’ racist experiences, which
range from mistreatment from peers to mistreatment from teachers, highlights
the negative racial environment of the school setting. When reflecting on these
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experiences, some students to questioned why these racialized experiences were
occurring, and why their White teachers and White students hold negative per-
ceptions of them.
However, these racialized classroom experiences and teacher interactions were
not limited to just Black girls. Throughout the focus groups, the girls also per-
ceived that Black boys were also disproportionately disciplined as well, compared
to White students. For instance, when asked to describe what they meant when
they said teachers give them “special attention,” Ashley, Erica, and Nia explained:
Ashley: They [teachers] give us a little more focus
Erica: A little more attention
Ashley: They do. They focus on us more than White kids
Erica: Like if we start talking you know we get in trouble. But those kids
across the classroom you know they’re cracking up and they don’t get
in trouble
Interviewer: Oh so you mean that way. Okay do you think it’s—Do you think it’s
worse for girls, but more boys? Or who do you think—?
Ashley: I think it’s the boys ‘cause most of our boys are like—Well I don’t
know there’s not many boys, Black boys at our school cause they’re
all either long term or suspended. A lot of time they’re suspended so
they mostly—there are about two boys that’s at our school that don’t
really get into trouble
Interviewer: So in terms of being Black or African American when you said in the
school it matters because the special—Like the teachers put special
attention on you and then the kids use the N word. So how do you
feel? Like does that make you feel less than bein’—Does that hurt
your feelings? Do you feel like you don’t? How do you feel?
Erica: No, because we’ve got to try harder
Nia: It makes me feel like I have to try harder
Kendra and Erica further differentiate and explain the negative school climate
and the differences in the disciplinary actions of students at their school. In par-
ticular, when comparing the behavioral expectations of students who attend city
versus county schools, the girls perceived that Black students who attend county
schools must behave differently because there are expectations of county Black
students that differ from city Black students. That is, county Black students are
expected to behave and city Black students are not:
Interviewer: City kids are tougher? Is that what you are saying?
Kendra: No. We all are city kids but—
Interviewer: Yeah
Kendra: I’m saying the kids that go to city schools—
Interviewer: Mm-hmm
Kendra: Like they not
Erica: The discipline is different is what she’s trying to say
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Interviewer: Among the teachers. Mm-hmm
Kendra: Teachers—and the kids—they go to city schools are not afraid.
They’re not afraid. It’s like in county schools if we say something
or do something wrong we can get in trouble like this. But at city
schools it’s not like that
Interviewer: Okay
Erica: ‘Cause at county schools like they want you like not—They want you
like to behave and stuff
Kendra: Yeah right, uh-huh, yeah. But like they want you to like have a
respect and show respect and make sure you respect yourself, like use
your intelligence. And in city schools it’s like you’re gonna do what
you want and they know you’re gonna do what you wanna do. Like
who gone stop you? I’m like you lost out. And so they don’t care
In comparing the behavioral expectations of students attending city and county
schools, Kendra and Erica illustrate that Black students attending county schools
must assimilate to the White dominate culture within these schools in order to
excel academically. Thus, unlike city Black students who are “not afraid” to speak
up about their racial discriminatory schooling experiences, county Black students
are expected to remain silent, as this can negatively affect their participation in the
desegregation program. For instance, when asked if she thought she would still
experience racism if she attended an all-Black school, Ashley stated that White
teachers at city schools knew not to be racist toward city students as they were clas-
sified as tougher and in some instances, “ghetto.” White teachers thus automatically
know not to say anything to these students, despite their disrespectful behaviors.
However, if the girls exhibited similar behaviors at their predominately White school
they would be disciplined for it because of their race. She states:
“Well like the city schools here like at JFK, they have like—The teachers know
not to be racist because it’s like the kids here are not afraid to like fight the
teachers. JFK and Rockefeller ain’t trying and then they try and like—Those
kids are not afraid to actually say something to the teachers. But in the county
schools it’s like we know we say something and we might end up getting put
out because of our color.
Academic Expectations
A plethora of studies document the importance of positive teacher support and
academic outcomes among African American adolescents (e.g., Booker 2006;
Elias and Haynes 2008; Noguera 2003; Sanders 1998; Somers etal. 2008). The
findings in our study revealed that Black girls received little to no positive sup-
port, and instead, noted the intrusive support teachers provided based on their
expectations of their academic abilities. For instance, this last theme builds upon
the racial microagressions the participants reported experiencing at their school.
Specifically, the girls often expressed that they were aware of the offensive and
judgmental messages and interactions they had with their teachers because they
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were Black. In the following example, Erica talks about her racial discrimination
experiences and being treated like a kindergartener by her math teacher:
Interviewer: Do you like math?
Erica: Yay … cause it’s easy … well, sometimes I do … but this one teacher
talk to me like I am retarded
Interviewer: What’s an example?
Erica: Like how when you have a kindergartner and you want to make sure
they understand, like for example. Are you sure? Yes. Are you really
sure? Are you positive? It gets on my nerves
Above, Erica talks about being treated as if she can’t handle the challenge
of the mathematics work. Generally, teachers in this school setting were often
described as invading students of color’s space and/or being perceived as intru-
sive. This was not an exception by their mathematics teachers. We also noted
that teachers might have been trying to help students. However, being one of two
students of color in a mathematics classroom, help from teachers felt as if they
were receiving “special” attention because they were Black or African American.
Throughout the focus group sessions, we later found out that receiving “special”
attention from teachers meant having a developmental or learning disability. As
previously discussed, this often led to differences in disciplinary actions between
Black and White students, with more Black girls being more likely to go to in-
school suspension. These students not only recognized this but felt as if they had
to try harder (e.g., getting good grades, maintaining a positive self-image, and
displaying positive behavior) as a result of being Black at a predominately White
school.
In addition to receiving differential or special treatment by teachers, participants
also detailed negative racial experiences by their non-Black peers given perceptions
they also held about their academic abilities. For instance, when asked how they are
treated by their peers at their school, Niki and other students explained:
Nicki: Bad. Because they think you are automatically ghetto and don’t have
nothing
Tasha: Yes, when we were in design studio there are people that are so mean
and disrespectful
Imani: Sometimes I am treated differently because they think just because I’m
African American I can’t do the things they do [academically]. They
think I am only good at sports
Aaliyah: Yes, because they all think we are tough, loud, and ghetto. They always
think we are violent
Rasheeda: Yes, because some people treat me wrong, but not all people
Shawnta: Yes, they treat me like I don’t belong at that school and sometimes I
feel unwanted and disrespected. That’s why my mama say, ‘Don’t let
what those kids at schools say bother you, you are just as wanted as
they are.’
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Overall, in describing their racialized and gendered experiences, the young Black
girls perceived their participation in the desegregation program to adversely affect
their schooling experiences. Yet, despite being treated differently because of their
racial/ethnic group membership and living in the city, coping with the negative
treatment was the only option, as they girls held the belief that city schools would
not prepare them academically for the future. For instance, during one focus group,
Briana and Ashley differentiate between the academic expectations around perfor-
mance between city and county schools, based on what they heard from others in
their family and/or community:
Interviewer: Do you think that your grades would be different if you went to a dif-
ferent school?
Briana: Well yeah ‘cause like the city schools the work not that hard but to be
honest it ain’t even no work and then you really don’t work
Interviewer: With the city schools?
Briana: Yeah like I would rather have work and get education and that
Ashley: What I was told at JFK if you show up you graduate. You show up
at like—One of those—What I was telling you is if you show up you
graduate. Like they have no way they can hold you back. Well they
could but most of the kids—I don’t even think they hold nobody back
In the above example, Briana and Ashley express that students attending a city
school are expected to just show up, and academic success is not required. However,
at county schools the work is more challenging, which encourage students to per-
form harder. Thus, in this instance, it appears that despite their negative, racialized
experiences in this school context, the county school meets their academic needs
with regards to the academic curriculum and behavioral expectations. Briana further
explains her comment by stating that the curriculum in the county schools are more
advanced than the curriculum in the city schools. She states:
“Like in city schools the work is not easier. It’s just that now that we’re in a
county school like we ahead of them. So a lot of the stuff that we’ve learned
now they learned—they just now learned in high school hopefully.”
Overall, the perceptions around SES background suggest that Black girls resided in
violent and poor communities, were ghetto, and had behavioral problems, despite
the fact that they (regardless of SES status) were doing academically well.
Discussion
The present study explored the experiences of Black girls who participated in a
VICC program in the state of Missouri. To date, some of literature has focused on
the voices of teachers and parents (e.g., André-Bechely 2005; Goldring and Shapira
1993; Maddaus 1990; Morris 2001; Schneider etal. 1998) or the academic benefits
of children and adolescents participating in these programs (e.g., Rumberger and
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Palardy 2005; Wells and Crain 1994; Wortman and Bryant 1985). With the indica-
tor of “success” being the test scores and the comparison of children and adoles-
cents who do not attend such schools. This narrative suggests that to be academi-
cally successfully, VICC programs are the way for children of color, because access
to resources and teacher preparation. However, what we do know about children’s
experiences within these contexts and their treatment, unfortunately, that socio-emo-
tional component is absent from the literature. Additionally, the gender piece and
the experiences of Black girls within these contexts are absent as well. Our work
builds upon Grant’s (1984) and Holland’s (2012) study. More specifically, Holland
(2012) found that Black girls who attended a predominately White school that was
part of a desegregation program, had a difficult time adjusting to the environment
in comparison to Black boys. Additionally, Black girls were also more likely to be
labeled as ghetto and loud. The present study’s findings build upon and corroborate
these findings for Black girls.
The girls in our study were not passive. They perceived specific types of mes-
sages about their identity and socioeconomic status on a daily basis. Some of the
girls were expected to be “ghetto”, needing extra assistance, coming from poor and
violent communities, and disciplined unfairly. These findings corroborate previous
research about the negative stereotypes and perceptions of Black girls (e.g., Koonce
2012; Morris 2007). Additionally, despite the fact that Black girls in our study came
from socioeconomically diverse backgrounds, the assumptions about them centered
around being ghetto, poor, and stigmatized. In our study, Black girls experienced
both race-based and socio-economic based discrimination within the school. The
negative treatment not only came from teachers but their peers as well. Previous
literatures suggest that choice programs benefit children with little to no adequate
resources in their neighborhoods (e.g., Wortman and Bryant 1985). Our work sug-
gest that among a socio-economically diverse group of Black girls (including low-
income) that they were all assumed to come from the ghetto and reside in violent
communities. These experiences note the importance of socialization and how
specific stereotypes have been associated with adolescents of color participating in
this program since the 80s (Wells and Crain 1999). What is the intergenerational
transmission of the school culture in how city children are viewed? Future research
should continue to explore Black youth experiences noting the stereotypes about
them and how it impacts their identity and achievement motivation.
The theme, Racial and Cultural Stereotypes, highlights the stereotypical treat-
ment Black girls within this context experienced as a result of the ways in which
Black culture was perceived and embraced. More importantly, Black girls were con-
scious and aware of how others in this context perceived them, which clearly had a
socio-emotional impact, as their coping mechanisms ranged from ignoring offensive
comments, such as being called the “N” word”, to being angered. To date, there is
inconsistency in the literature about the degree to which response patterns impact
mental health outcomes (see Harrell et al. 2003). However, Krieger and Sidney
(1996) found that a passive coping style was associated with high blood pressure
readings. Tull etal. (2005) found among a sample of African-Caribbean women that
a defeated coping style (using denial or behavioral disengagement) was associated
with poorer health outcomes. Clark and Anderson (2001) found among a sample
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of Black women that racism and specific coping styles were associated with blood
pressure and heart rate with these passive coping responses being associated with
elevated heart rate and changes in blood pressure. Additional research is warranted
to continue to explore the many coping responses of Black girls and the impact on
their developmental trajectory.
We also found that the Black girls perceived that they got in more trouble for
minor behavioral infractions in comparison to their White peers, which was evident
in the theme, Differential Discipline. Blake etal. (2011) found that Black girls were
overrepresented in all discipline sanctions. Morris (2007) found that Black girls
were more likely to be labeled as loud. These findings are cause for concern because
a plethora of research studies have focused on Black boys and school discipline
practices (Ferguson 2001; Ladson-Billings 2011; Lewis etal. 2010; Monroe 2005,
2006; Noguera 2003, 2008) in comparison to Black girls (e.g., Blake etal. 2011;
Crenshaw etal. 2015, Morris 2012). This is particularly troubling as the heightened
focus on Black boys can lead one to assume that Black girls are not experiencing
mistreatment within classroom settings, which further contributes to their invisibil-
ity. Research should continue to understand the contextual settings in which Black
girls are more likely to be disciplined (racially and ethnically diverse schools vs.
predominately White schools). Additional information is also warranted about the
type of infraction that Black girls are receiving in comparison to other racial and
ethnic minority girls within these predominately White settings.
Furthermore, the theme, Academic Expectations, illuminates the finding that
the attention the Black girls received from their teachers were based on expecta-
tions teachers held about their academic abilities given their race and gender. These
experiences involved being treated as if they could not understand the work or
being treated as if they had a learning disability. Ruck and Wortley (2002) found
that Black students were more likely to perceive negative treatment from teach-
ers. Chavous etal. (2008) found that classroom discrimination (e.g., being treated
harshly by teachers) was associated with lower GPA and school importance among
Black girls. Wong etal. (2003) found that perceived school (peer and teachers) dis-
crimination was associated with lower achievement motivation beliefs and socio-
emotional well-being. Interestingly enough, very few studies have explored teacher
treatment among students of color in VICC programs, as focus is often on students’
academic outcomes. Future research should therefore continue to explore students
of color experiences within this context desegregation programs and the detrimental
impact these experiences have on psychological well-being. Additionally, utilizing
an intersectionality lens would give voice and underscore the unique lived experi-
ences of youth of color.
Limitations
There were some limitations in the study. These results are based on the experi-
ences of Black girls from two schools participating in the voluntary choice pro-
gram. A larger sample and longitudinal analyses using a mixed methods approach
will contribute to the dearth of research on children of color experiences in these
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programs. Also, there were other schools that participated in the voluntary choice
program throughout the state of Missouri and their experiences may have been
different across the middle schools in the various school districts. The inclusion
of Black girls attending schools that vary in the racial/ethnic and socioeconomic
composition would also be helpful in delineating the ways that these settings may
impact their developmental competencies.
Another limitation of the study was that we did not ask them how they cope
with such negative experiences (Carter 2007). Perhaps future research can iden-
tify both contextual and individual strengths and assets that allow Black girls to
thrive when encountering negative racist experiences at school. Identifying assets
that build Black girls racial and gender identity beliefs, academic persistence, and
self-esteem are particularly critical, as Shorter-Gooden (2004) found that Black
women often relied on faith, the strengths of their ancestors, and self-confidence
in order to cope with racist and sexist experiences. It’s also important to note
that Black girls in the study may or may not have chosen to participate in the
VICC program. Future research should explore the reasons why parents and/or
adolescents choose to participate in this program (see Pattillo 2015). Thus, we
will better understand school choice among African American parents, while also
being informed of the current state of schooling within their neighborhoods and
the options that were considered.
Conclusions
In summary, the findings of the research study contribute to the paucity of
research examining the lived experiences of youth of color attending voluntary
choice programs. Another strength of the study is the use of Coll’s and colleagues
model to examine the voices of Black girls—an invisible population. Our findings
highlighted the importance of the contextual setting in either promoting or inhib-
iting positive developmental outcomes. In the current study, Black girls, irrespec-
tive of socio-economic status, are not treated equitably by some of their peers
and teachers. These negative experiences may have a deleterious impact on their
self-worth and affirming a positive racial identity (see Chavous etal. 2008). Addi-
tionally, high scholastic achievement is important and is the key to upward mobil-
ity, but at what cost when Black girls’ socio-emotional well-being is threatened.
These findings have implications for their academic achievement outcomes. Mov-
ing forward, despite the effort of voluntary choice programs, there continues to
be need for work to be done in this area. Over the past decade, emphasis has been
on the academic component (i.e., higher test scores and GPA) for students attend-
ing these programs. Yet, very little literature focuses on the lived experiences of
Black adolescents in these settings. Our study offers a unique contribution, and
sheds light on a scholarly area that is ripe for further exploration, as it highlights
the salient role of context, race, class, and gender and the impact it has on the
experiences of youth of color, specifically Black girls, participating in voluntary
choice programs.
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1 3
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... Moreover, suspensions targeting Black girls (Blake et al. 2011;NWLC 2018) will have detrimental effects not only psychologically (Butler-Barnes et al. 2019), but also academically. Of more concern is the crucial instruction time Black girls miss because of suspension. ...
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BLACK AGENCY AND THE ONGOING STRUGGLE FOR BLACK EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY - Volume 13 Issue 2 - Carla O’Connor