As President Obama observed in an address to the Congressional Black Caucus in September, there has been significant progress in recent years for women and girls of color: “Teen births are down, and high school graduation and college enrollment rates are up. The number of businesses owned by women of color has now outpaced the number all women-owned firms; yet there are still “opportunity gaps” and even some “structural barriers” that are to be overcome.
Contrary to a promising backdrop that shows a decrease in teen pregnancies and an increase in high school graduation and college enrollment for young women of color and females in general, black girls and young women face an alarmingly high rate of school discipline and arrest compared to other youth, including black males.
According to 2011-12 statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, black girls were six times more likely to be suspended than white girls – 12 percent compared to 2 percent. Black boys were suspended at a rate of 20 percent, while white boys were suspended at a rate of 6 percent.
The University of Virginia has now joined 24 additional institutions in a new Collaborative to Advance Equity through Research, which was announced on 13 November at the White House Summit on Advancing Equity for Women & Girls of Color. The University’s collaborative endeavor will be dedicated to researching and advancing programs to to address these particular statistics,
University of Virginia Vice Provost Maurie McInnis clarifies further:
“We’ve now identified a national problem: what’s happening to women and girls of color. In New York, for example, black girls are 10 times more likely than their white counterparts to be suspended from school, and 50 times more likely to be expelled. Such acts create a school-to-prison pipeline that forever changes the trajectory of their lives and has an impact on the well-being of their families, their communities and society as a whole.
UVA will be one of the initial signing institutions, having pledged well in excess of $1 million over the next five years devoted to research on women and girls of color. In fact, we already do an enormous amount in this area.
Melissa Harris-Perry is a Professor in Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University, which was a co-host of the forum. She was one of the Summit’s leaders who also commented on this unique partnership:
Together we are publicly affirming the critical need for research about women and girls of color and committing some of the limited resources of our institutions to pursuing and supporting this research.
The forum, and its report, “Advancing Equity for Girls and Women of Color: A Research Agenda for the Next Decade,” was hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls and by Wake Forest University’s Anna Julia Cooper Center. The chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls,Valerie Jarrett, is also Senior Adviser and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. She was also one of the speakers, as was Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Along with the funding from universities, colleges, foundations and nonprofit organizations who have pledged $18 million, in support of both new and existing research efforts about women and girls of color, additional support will come from Prosperity Together, a consortium of 20 women’s foundations and the Ms. Foundation, who have also pledged a $100 million, five-year funding initiative to improve economic prosperity for low-income women.
With passion and courage women have taught us that when we ban together to advocate for our highest ideals we can advance our common well-being and strengthen the fabric of our nation. ~ President Barack Obama
At the University of Virginia, there is a commitment to a range of projects, in the Curry School of Education and The Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, which sponsored the “Black Girls Matter” symposium on Nov. 12 as one of the forums in its “Engaging Race” series. In the School of Education, UVa’s Young Women Leaders Program is in its 28th year and already has served more than 1,000 middle school girls, and has also trained more than 1,000 college mentors.
The Young Women Leaders mentoring program has led to many new programs at other universities and colleges, both in the U.S. and in several international locations worldwide, including Cameroon, Ethiopia and Mozambique. This program, which uses a curriculum based on UVa research is led by Curry School professor and clinical psychologist Edith “Winx” Lawrence, and Program Director Jaronda Miller-Bryant at the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center. The program uses a curriculum developed and based on UVA research efforts.
Professor McInnis, author of “Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art in the American Slave Trade,” notes that the University will make a future funding commitment, most likely issuing a call for proposals in research areas related to African-American girls over next five years, as resources are directed specifically to respond to recent research indicating that girls and women of color face charges of violence and ‘acting out’ which leads to involvement with the juvenile justice system and with much higher barriers to their economic prosperity:
Although African-American girls represent about 14 percent of the U.S. population, they constitute 32 percent of girls who are detained and committed,” the White House fact sheet says. “Native American girls are only 1 percent of the population, but 3.5 percent of girls who are detained and committed.
The most common infractions that girls are arrested for include running away and truancy – behaviors that are also symptoms or outcomes of trauma and abuse. Once in the system, girls may be treated as offenders rather than girls in need of support, perpetuating a vicious cycle that is increasingly known as the ‘sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline.’
The White House Summit on Advancing Equity for Women & Girls of Color, initiated a yearlong process working to develop a research agenda for the next ten years which focuses on these specific issues.
Sara Kugler, who is co-director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center on Gender, Race and Politics in the South, which is part of the Pro Humanitate Institute at Wake Forest, notes:
This is an ambitious project that will build on existing work, rely on collaborative efforts and innovative partnerships, and aims to be consequential in advancing equity and justice for women and girls of color.
The video of the White House conference is available here and additional information is also available at the White House Council for Women and Girls.