Racialized Perceptions of School Violence Suspensions of African-American Students

Racialized Perceptions of School Violence Suspensions of African-American Students

Jeffrey Herron (Campbellsville University, USA) and Morghan Vélez Young-Alfaro (California State University – Fresno, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6246-7.ch009

Abstract

The history and current practices of out-of-school suspensions significantly impact African-American students; research shows the practices to be overly used and target African-American students. This chapter explores the ways that school violence is responded to disproportionally and is entangled with racial mythology. That is, racial discrimination shows up in structural and interpersonal ways such as suspending and expelling students of Color for the same infractions for which White peers get to return to class such as kicking a trashcan, defiance, and truancies. The chapter closes with recommendations for educators and policymakers, focusing on ways to mitigate the impact of out-of-school suspension practices and racial discrimination in order to improve the future of learning, school discipline, and outcomes of African-American students.
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Introduction

Racial discrimination plays a major role in out-of-school suspensions. Extensive documentation of racial disparities in U.S. public schools shows that African-American students are suspended from school at higher rates than any other racial group (Arcia, 2007; Butler, Lewis, Moore, & Scott, 2012; Rocque, 2010; Skiba, Micheal, Nardo, &Peterson, 2002; Townsend, 2000). Racial discrimination shows up in structural and interpersonal ways such as suspending and expelling students of color for the same infractions for which white students get to return to class such as kicking a trashcan, defiance, and truancies (Ferriss 2015; Gonzalez 2012; Wallace, Goodkind, Wallace, & Bachman, 2008). Out-of-school suspension is defined as a disciplinary sanction requiring the student to be excluded from the school building for a specified period of time not to exceed 10 school days (Gibson and Haight 2013; Mednez, Knoff, & Ferron, 2002; Rose, 1988). While, students of color and their white peers vary in some ways in termsof the types of school-based behavioral infractions, students of color are disproportionately more often suspended and expelled for nonviolent and non-criminal behavioral issues that their white peers also partake in but for which there is no suspension (Wallace, Goodkind, Wallace, & Bachman, 2008).

In this chapter, the history and practices of out-of-school suspensions as they are applied to African-American students are explored in order to understand the students’ experiences in the “schools America builds” (Varene and McDermott 1998) and to locate this experience within the evolving context of school shootings as school violence. That is, so much blame has been placed on African-American students as the supposed drivers of school-based violence (Dukes & Gaither, 2017; Patton, Miller, Garbarino, Gale, & Kornfeld, 2016; Patton, Woolly, & Hong, 2012). Yet, the evidence shows that not only complex factors are involved in school violence engaged in by African-American students, but that non-violent behavioral infractions are the predominant scenario driving the disproportionate rate of out-of-school suspensions.

The application of suspension practices on students by racial category indicates the workings of institutional racism and the larger racial mythology that circumscribes students’ school experiences (Dukes & Gaither, 2017; Pollack & Kierkal, 2013; Rios & Rodrigues, 2012; Simson, 2014). This discussion is important to considerations of school violence for two reasons. First, in this chapter, we outline the ways that school violence is mythologized as being driven by African-American students and the role this plays in the disproportionate representations of African-American students in out-of-school suspensions. Second, we examine school-based violence engaged in by African-American students to understand the nuances of that violence and the complexities surrounding it. Both aspects of this chapter commit to fleshing-out the ways that suspension practices are applied and misapplied to African-American students, driven strongly by the blanket assumption of African-American students’ mythologized violence.

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