Friday, December 12, 2014

The Intersection of Race and Gender Bias in Discipline

For those who missed it, the New York Times ran a story Wednesday on discipline disparities for African American females, telling the experience of two young African American girls.  The first was described by teachers as very focused, but after she and a white friend scribbled some words on a bathroom stall, things fell apart.  Her part was to write the word  "hi."  The school's response was to suspend her, accuse her of vandalism and demand $100 in restitution.  When her family said it could not pay that amount, she received a visit from a police officer, who served her with papers accusing her of a trespassing misdemeanor and, potentially, a felony.  The final result was a summer on probation, a 7 p.m. curfew, 16 hours of community service, and a letter of apology.  Her friend was able to pay restitution and escaped juvenile justice consequences.  Most poignant, however, was the emotional harm and anxiety that she experienced (as well as the girl in the second story).  One girl's mother called it the equivalent of child abuse.

These anecdotes do not prove much other than that zero tolerance policies are irrationally harsh, but a recent study by Lance Hannon (Villanova University), Robert DeFina (Villanova University), and Sarah Bruch (University of Iowa) finds a disturbing intersection between race and gender bias that significantly biases discipline toward African American girls.  Their abstract explains:

This study contributes to the research literature on colorism--discrimination based on skin
tone--by examining whether skin darkness affects the likelihood that African Americans
will experience school suspension. Using data from The National Longitudinal Survey of
Youth, logistic regression analyses indicated that darker skin tone significantly increased
the odds of suspension for African American adolescents. Closer inspection of the data
revealed that this overall result was disproportionately driven by the experiences of
African American females. The odds of suspension were about 3 times greater for young
African American women with the darkest skin tone compared to those with the lightest
skin. This finding was robust to the inclusion of controls for parental SES, delinquent
behavior, academic performance, and several other variables. Furthermore, this finding
was replicated using similar measures in a different sample of African Americans from
the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The results suggest that
discrimination in school discipline goes beyond broad categories of race to include
additional distinctions in skin tone.

Discipline, Discrimination | Permalink


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