How race, skin tone affects school discipline of girls

Three girls from a local school looks at
Three girls from a local school looks at a Eurasian eagle owl held by bird handlers after the release of a 5-month-old red-tailed hawk September 29, 2010 in New York's Central Park.
STAN HONDA | AFP | Getty Images

When it comes to discipline of girls in U.S. schools, the color and darkness of their skin leads to drastically different outcomes.

Black girls are suspended six times more than white girls, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. Villanova University analysis also found that "black girls with the darkest skin tones were three times more likely to be suspended than black girls with the lightest skin."

Lance Hannon, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Villanova, said on MPR News that skin tone bias still existed within similar family incomes, test scores, living environments and types of behavior.

"Race, gender and punishment deservedness are so deeply intertwined in the American psyche, that even the degree to which one looks one's racial part and gender part affects the likelihood of receiving the penalty," he said.

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While there was no definitive explanation in the analysis, Hannon said they theorize that girls with darker skin tones were stereotyped as more masculine and threatening to authorities.

Kimberle Crenshaw, professor of law at Columbia University and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, also joined the discussion and said these actions send out the wrong message to students:

Hannon and Crenshaw made several recommendations to help solve the disparity:

• Schools need to start acknowledging colorism as a form of discipline discrimination. Communities should start talking about the issue openly.

• More research about zero tolerance policies in schools and not just a focus on boys. Research is showing we can't afford to ignore girls, Crenshaw said, so parents and educators need to be thinking about how all students can thrive at school.