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  • Writer's pictureNBWJI

For Many Black Girls, School Elicits Fear & Anxiety about Gender-Based Violence & Criminalization

With school now back in full swing, it’s important to remember that, although schools should be safe and protective places for all students, schools are often hostile and harmful spaces for Black girls.

School is where Black girls experience gender-based violence: 8 in 10 students report having been sexually harassed at school at least once. And in school and out of school, Black girls are more likely to report experiencing sexual harassment than any other group:

  • 67% of Black girls report having been “touched, grabbed, or pinched in a sexual way” by someone in school.

  • 50% of Black girls report someone in school pulling at their clothing in a sexual way.

  • 28% of Black girls report being forced to kiss someone.

Students who report being sexually harassed in school also report difficulty paying attention in class, lower participation, and are more likely to stop attending school altogether due to fears and anxiety about their safety. Disengaging from school not only disrupts students’ education, it also increases their involvement in risky activities and contact with the juvenile legal system.

School is also where Black girls experience disproportionate levels of discipline, related to racial and gender stereotypes, such as being suspended or removed from class for dress code violations or being “disruptive, loud, confrontational, or assertive”—all pointing to the “adultification” of Black girls. Black girls are 4 times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls and are 3 times more likely than white girls to be arrested or referred to law enforcement in school.

All of this adultification, racism, violence, and criminalization threatens Black girls’ mental health and safety.

What we're doing: Education justice for Black girls and ending school pushout

The National Black Women’s Justice Institute has a long history of working toward education justice for Black girls and ending school pushout. Some of our recent work and resources include:

  • Addressing gender-based violence and sexual harassment in schools, especially for Black girls. We are partnering with the Title IX Office in a large urban school district in the midwest to help it implement healing-centered responses to gender-based violence, particularly for Black girls and gender expansive youth. We’re working to transform middle and high schools into spaces where all girls feel safe to report gender-based violence and have access to culturally-affirming services to help them heal. Part of our approach in this work, and all of our work, is that we center the experiences and needs of Black girls. To learn more, check out our recent conversation featuring experts from NBWJI and the Indianapolis Public School District discussing how to make schools more supportive of Black girls and other girls of color who experience sexual violence and harassment.

  • Co-leading the Trauma-Informed Learning Network for Girls of Color, which educates and supports a network of educators across the country who are committed to instituting gender-responsive, culturally-affirming, and trauma-informed practices in their classrooms and schools. The Youth Advisory Committee of the Learning Network recently released its Bill of Rights to Support the Mental Health of Girls and Gender-Expansive Youth of Color in Schools.

  • Creating Boys as Allies, an educational curriculum designed for Black boys and young men, ages 11 to 18, to help them identify and understand gender-based violence and its impact on Black girls in an effort to eliminate sexual violence and create a culture where Black girls are physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe.

  • Evaluating EMERGE (Educating, Mentoring, Empowering, and Reaffirming our Girls for Excellence Reentry Program), a promising education model in Alameda County, CA, designed to dismantle existing pathways to school disengagement and confinement and instead build pathways to college and careers for Black girls and other girls of color who have been involved in the juvenile-legal or foster care systems.

What you can do

We all must do better. We must listen to and protect our girls. And we must transform schools into safe, welcoming places that nurture confident and courageous Black girls.

Are you interested in getting involved? Check out our End School PushOut for Black Girls policy recommendations and join our Justice Circle for future opportunities to engage with us and support education justice for Black girls.


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