Better Together: Battling Micro-aggressions at PWI’s

One form of racism people may not realize happens to Black students in predominately white schools is micro-aggression.  A micro-aggression is a term used to describe subtle discrimination against another individual, particularly a minority, in the form of a clever comment or observation.  An example of a micro-aggression is when someone makes a comment like “You’re not like other Black people” or when a white person acts surprised that a Black person can afford a big-ticket item at a retail store.  Micro-aggressions stem from harmful stereotypes that are often strongest at institutions that lack diversity among students and faculty.  When there are a small number of minority students at an institution, the opportunity for disproving stereotypes greatly diminishes.

Micro-aggressions are likely the top form of racism experienced by college-aged Black students at predominately white institutions.  In an article written by Adrianna Laforest, she explains her experiences with white students at Stetson, the predominately white institution she attends.  She explains why she prefers to be surrounded by Black peers at school: “While I was in high school, most of my friends were white. Then, when I came to college, I ended up having more black friends. I always wondered why this was. But now that I think about it, it is so much easier to transition into college when you find people who you share a lot of similarities with. People who don’t ask why you wrap your hair at night and why you don’t wash your hair every day. People who understand you because they are just like you.”

Having a similar experience at a predominately white high school, I share Adrianna’s sentiments, which is why I decided I wanted to attend an HBCU.  Many Black students thrive off of the fellowship they experience with one another at an HBCU.  It seems that we are more successful when we do not have to worry about constantly explaining and defending our Blackness while focusing on our studies at the same time.




Wealth is the Key to Success

I recently read an article written by Seth Freed Wessler in 2015 about the differences in wealth between Black and white families in America.  Wessler argues that education, job opportunities and income contribute to, but are not the root cause of inequity of Blacks in this country.  According to research, in 2011 Black graduates who were head of household had two thirds the net worth of white high school dropouts who headed a household.  From this research, Wessler concluded that jobs and education don’t make much of a difference as to why Blacks do not have nearly as much money as their white counterparts.

Wealth is key.  White families are historically more wealthy than Black families.  Statistics show that a much greater number of white families are able to transfer money to their family members than Blacks, which creates a “safety net” for them to take more career risks and focus on business ventures more than Blacks, who, without the wealth, are forced to focus on paying bills and/or caring for less financially well-off family members.  This can also be attributed to college graduation rates.  Wealthy white college students are able to focus more on their studies than non-wealthy Blacks, who may have to drop out of school due to the financial burden or work their way through school, which can make finishing classes difficult.

The structural whiteness of this country will likely not change in the near future.  Though education isn’t the core determining factor of success, Black students must receive a quality education to be able to compete and survive in this country that cares for the wealthy majority above all others.

SAAS Project Solutions

My last blog post introduced the SAAS Project, a research study done by the University of Pennsylvania on the success of Black students in predominately white schools.  In this post, I will examine the findings from the study in terms of solutions the researchers think will promote Black student success in white (independent) schools.

First, the researchers concluded from their findings that schools must recognize that each student is a unique individual and that all Black students should not be placed under one cultural umbrella.  They believe that this will help to eliminate stereotypical thinking amongst white students that lead to racism.  Yes, the students should be seen as individuals and the study shows that self-esteem, which is related to success rate, decreases when students do not feel that they are included or belong.  However, the media is the major driving force in stereotyping different groups, so this may be hard to undo, since the media makes such a large impact on students and teachers, alike.

Secondly, the researchers felt that, based on the research, the school should engage in a dialogue about racism and white power and privilege, which they feel would reduce the stress Black students feel when surrounded by a majority white student and faculty body.  Again, while, in theory, this makes sense, I wonder how effective this will be.  People must admit that there is racism happening amongst them before they can speak about it, and according to the study, many teachers and administrators reported that they did not think discrimination was a problem at their schools.  It is impossible to speak about resolving an issue when the majority perceives no issue to resolve.

The third solution the researchers proposed is one I do think will prove effective—increasing the number of Black students in the schools.  In doing this, Black students will feel that they have more of a voice and impact on the school, and their sense of community would likely increase.  I always felt that being around a familiar face makes one feel more comfortable and confident.

Lastly, researchers feel that schools should come up with organizations that would promote a sense of community among students of color.  Many schools have groups like this; a great example is the Black Student Union, which advocates for more racially diverse school programs, discussions, and is a place where Black students can comfortably come together in fellowship.

I researched and critiqued this study in order to gather intel and research strategies for my own study on the same topic.  In a future post I will describe in great detail my research method and the tools and demographic of people I will be using for my study.


The SAAS Project

In 2003, Diane Hall, Howard Stevenson, and Edith Harrington, three researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a study called SAAS, or the Success of African American Students in Independent Schools Project, on how African American Students fare in predominately white (independent) schools.  The researchers used both qualitative and quantitative data to complete the study: the qualitative data was gathered from 65 male and female students in grades 6-12 and from upper-school student focus groups.  The quantitative data came from a series of questionnaires.  The study found three trends that were universally relevant to the student survey results and interviews:

  1. Promoting black students’ connection to the school community and their emotional health is key to their academic success.
  2. Schools not only socialize students academically; they also socialize students racially.
  3. The experience of racism is a reality for Black youth that can compromise the quality of their school experience and tax their emotional resources.

When asked about self-esteem, students reported feeling the highest levels at home and the lowest at school.  Additionally, 75% of Black students interviewed reported that they made special efforts to fit into school communities, 82% reported that they’ve had at least one negative experience at school, 40% of students stated that they did not believe the school treated all students the same, and 62% of the Black students interviewed and questioned reported that they did not think they belonged in their school.  Though these social statistics are low, students did report high ranks for the quality of the curriculum and that they felt they would be adequately equipped for college as a result of the curriculum.

Teachers and administrators at predominately white schools often do not know how to deal with racial and cultural diversity.  The majority of those interviewed stated they did not wish to focus on racial and cultural diversity in their classrooms at any point, which results in the trivialization of diversity and can be harmful to, not only the Black students, but the entire school.  Teachers and administrators also reported that they did not think discrimination was a problem at their respective schools.

However, Black students painted a different picture when asked about their experiences with discrimination and adversity in school.  43% of Black students interviewed believed white people acted surprised at their intelligence and hard work, 41% said other students act out harmful stereotypes of Black people, and 40% of Black students felt it necessary to change their speech and appearance around white people.  Discrimination in schools lowers Black students’ self-esteem, which has shown to be detrimental to academic success and contributes to behavioral issues in Black students.

“In school, youth learn what is expected of them in their roles as students and as citizens in the larger world. In independent schools, the majority of students are white and a great deal of economic resources are available in order to prepare students to enter into places and positions of power and prestige. Consequently, whiteness and privilege will shape the rules concerning what is appropriate behavior, which attributes are valued more than others, and how people are supposed to interact with one another in and out of the school community.”

The SAAS Project also identified specific measures that must be taken by independent school teachers and administrators as a result of this research.  I will identify, examine and evaluate the perceived effectiveness of these measures in a future blog post.

Is Common Core the Cause or the Cure for Failing Schools?

This morning I had a conversation with my good girlfriend about the reason she will be pulling her 6th grade son out of school this week and homeschooling him for the remainder of the school year.  Her son, a bright 11-year-old, is failing his courses at his Baltimore City Public Middle School and his mother attributes this failure to the Common Core Curriculum the school system has adopted, as well as the unsupportive teachers.  After a meeting with the school principal, my good girlfriend was left angry and hopeless because the school was not willing or able to offer any type of tutoring for her son so that he could get back on track with his academic endeavors.  Furthermore, the principal informed her that even though her son reads at a third grade level, he would not be held back a grade.

Common Core curriculum has been a nuisance to parents and children, alike, since it was introduced in 2009.  According to the Common Core website, Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics, and English language arts/literacy.  The learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade.  Furthermore, according to an article published by NBC News, Common Core is designed to emphasize analytical and critical thinking skills.

Opponents of Common Core, such as my good girlfriend say that the homework is too confusing.  Parents are unable to help children with their work, when needed, because we simply did not learn this way.  It’s a shame that the Baltimore City school system cannot do more for this child who is so behind in the curriculum.  This is an issue that many families I know face, both regarding unsupportive faculty and difficult results-based curriculum in Baltimore City Public Schools.

Black Children Left Behind by “No Child Left Behind”

In 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, ending the failed No Child Left Behind Law in 2015.  Many have blamed the No Child Left Behind law on the failing condition of predominately Black schools due to several factors, including the strict guidelines for testing scores.

Signed by President Bush in 2002, the law mandated that students in grades 3 through 8 must be tested on their proficiency in reading and mathematics, and that those scores must be reported and categorized by different demographic groups.  Individual school success is measured by Average Yearly Progress (AYP), and schools that did not meet AYP were at risk of being defunded, having students transfer, and mandatory tutoring which must be paid for by the school, to name a few.  Schools even risked being taken over or turned into charter schools.

As a result of the harsh repercussions put in place by No Child Left Behind, schools felt pressure to have their students excel at the standardized tests.   Teachers spent more time on math and reading, since those were the two areas students were tested on, and less time on other subjects that are also important in shaping a child’s education.  Additionally, students who weren’t equipped with the skills to succeed at the tests by the third grade were eventually pushed out of their schools and put into alternative schools or “better-performing schools”.  This largely affected Black students, due to the fact that Black students score lower on standardized tests than the general population, and contributed to the school to prison pipeline, being that Black students are more likely to be suspended and expelled than other students.

No Child Left Behind is one of the programs I will examine when exploring Black students’ success in predominately white schools.  It appears that a number of Black students were moved to predominately white schools resulting from poor standardized test scores and I will report on how they fared.

Introduction to My Semester Project Topic

The topic of “How Black Students Fare in Majority White Schools” is one that I am interested in, in part, because I have attended both white and Black schools and have experienced different results at both.  The blog below is a piece I wrote last semester that sparked a fire in me to further examine this topic.  Future posts will examine articles, statistics, testimonials, interviews, etc. that pertain to this topic.  Enjoy!