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UNLOCKING OPPORTUNITIES FOR GIRLS OF COLOR

Many African American girls and women of color face significant barriers to educational achievement. One important barrier is the prevalence of stereotypes that adversely impact the educational experience of African American girls.

Today, education   is   perhaps   the   most   important function of state and local governments. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principle instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education

STEREOTYPES AND SELF-ESTEEM

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While negative racial and gender stereotyping and perceptions are not the sole reasons for poor educational outcomes, they unquestionably impose significant barriers to educational achievement for African American girls.

In a recent study of African American girls in New York City, the girls who had a strong racial identity — e.g., those who described themselves as “strongly in touch with their racial heritage” or “Afrocentric” — were more likely than others to say that they were happy on a typical day, to indicate a serious commitment to their schoolwork, to get good grades, and to express a desire to go to college.

They were also more likely to believe that they would ultimately achieve their goals (64 percent versus 21 percent) and to have healthy relationships.

Evidence also suggests that positive messages and support from parents and other important adults, as well as peers, can support the development of positive race and gender identities and mitigate some of the effects of racism.

Stereotypes of African American girls and women date back to slavery — such as the view that African American women are “angry” or “aggressive,” and “promiscuous” or “hyper-sexualized.”

Such racial and gender stereotypes shape educators’ and administrators’ views of African American female students in critically harmful ways.

This implicit bias is rarely discussed or acknowledged, and therefore it goes virtually undetected. But addressing it is essential, as it can lead to the setting of lower academic expectations for African American girls, significant discipline disparities and a higher rate of referrals to the juvenile justice system, all factors that push African American girls out of school.

AFRICAN AMERICAN GIRLS AND LEADERSHIP

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According to a recent survey, African American girls aspire to be leaders more than any other group of girls. In fact, 53 percent of African American girls surveyed expressed a desire to be leaders as compared to 50 percent of Hispanic girls and 34 percent of Caucasian girls. Yet “opportunities for leadership are scarce” for girls, even today.

Ultimately, educators’ perceptions of African American young women often involve racial and gender stereotypes —and this undermines their potential for success —so it is imperative that African American girls get access to programs that foster their self-esteem and provide them with meaningful leadership opportunities.

HIGH POVERTY SCHOOLS AND RESOURCES

There is emerging research showing a strong correlation between attending a high poverty, racially isolated (high minority) school and lack of access to equitable and quality school resources; in fact, research shows that concentrated poverty magnifies issues associated with poverty in general, including dysfunctional and poorly resourced schools.

High-poverty schools have fewer resources than other schools and have more difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified and experienced teachers. And resource inequities begin as early as pre-kindergarten.

Research largely in part from “UNLOCKING OPPORTUNITY FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN GIRLS A Call to Action for Educational Equity” (2014) by The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC)

THE SOLUTION

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Ultimately, educators’ perceptions of young women of color often involve racial and gender stereotypes — and this undermines their potential for success — so it is imperative that girls of color get access to programs that foster their self-esteem and provide them with meaningful leadership opportunities.

Research with and for girls and young women indicates that gendered spaces and programming combat a diverse range of issues that are associated with growing up female. Many studies show that girl-specific spaces and programs are needed to support girls in order to deal with violence, gendered socialization and other challenges. There is a need for services designed specifically for girls and for all-girl spaces where young women can come together to talk about their experiences and develop strategies to improve their circumstances.

We do girls’ programming because there is a need to create spaces where young women are empowered. Our intention is to create spaces where young women are able to talk about issues such as identity, bullying, sexuality, and sexual health or violence in an open, supportive and honest way, where they can question stereotypes, speak up, and speak out.