Girls — especially girls of color — face unique challenges in school, from disproportionate rates of suspension and arrest to barriers in STEM participation. And the trauma that sometimes manifests in behavioral issues in school are often missed, or actively punished. The presence of police on campus have elevated the consequences of this punitive treatment, resulting in a system that often criminalizes girls of color rather than providing a healing space for learning and growth.
We co-authored Be Her Resource: A Toolkit About School Resource Officers and Girls of Color with the National Black Women’s Justice Institute. This toolkit is the culmination of a research project in which the Initiative and NBWJI conducted focus groups with school-based police officers in the South and with girls of color, seeking their input on improving interactions.
School-based police officers, often known as school resource officers (SROs), have become a common and growing presence in schools across the nation. The presence of law enforcement in school, while intended to increase school safety, has created a culture of surveillance and criminalization of students — especially students of color. As a result, for girls of color, police presence often signals exactly the opposite of their purpose: a lack of safety in school.
Black Girls Pushed Out of School
Dr. Monique W. Morris’ nationally acclaimed book, “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School”, has raised awareness of schools as a pathway to confinement for Black girls. As a long-time partner of ours, we co-hosted events with Dr. Morris – read more about the book signing and film screening here.
Recognizing and Addressing Trauma in Schools
The Initiative founded the Schools for Girls of Color Learning Network, which is co-led by the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, to inform educators about better supporting girls of color who experience trauma.
In an exploration of how schools can offer more accessible mental health services for girls of color, we released issue briefs authored by Dr. Kimberlyn Leary examining the challenges and value of school-based health centers.
Reducing Police in Schools
As police presence has increased in our schools, it’s become increasingly clear that they create an unsafe environment for girls. We are examining how to work toward eliminating school resource officers from schools. While they remain in place, we offer tools to reduce the harm they can present to girls of color, based on research we conducted in the south with police and with girls of color.
We co-authored Be Her Resource: A Toolkit About School Resource Officers and Girls of Color with the National Black Women’s Justice Institute. *NOTE: This toolkit should not be misinterpreted as an endorsement of the need for police in our schools. To the contrary, in a more ideal world — one in which schools implement a robust range of responses to students, especially those who exhibit symptoms of trauma — law enforcement would not be a consistent presence in schools, rendering reports like this one unnecessary. Today, however, that presence is very real. The number of officers and the scope of their interventions in students’ lives has only increased, which has had a unique impact on girls of color. Given the current environment, we saw a need for a constructive research project that would gather input from law enforcement and girls of color and provide guidance to improve interactions between them, with the ultimate goal of reducing the disproportionate rate at which girls of color are drawn into the juvenile justice system.
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