Issue Brief: Increasing School Connectedness for Girls: Restorative Justice as a Health Equity Resource

Schools can play an essential role in ending health inequities. But not all students experience schools in the same ways. Given the intersectional factors of race, gender, sexual identity, and poverty in their lives, marginalized girls are at a particularly high risk of negative outcomes in schools, including punitive and exclusionary discipline, school pushout, and contact with law enforcement and the juvenile justice system.

They also face high rates of trauma, which further elevates their chance of decreased school engagement even in the absence of other factors. Taken cumulatively, the experience of marginalized girls makes them uniquely vulnerable to lower levels of educational attainment, leading to lifelong negative health effects.

School connectedness, defined as students’ belief that adults in their school care about their learning and about them as individuals, results in lower rates of health-risk behaviors and improved academic performance.

Over the last ten years, evidence has increasingly shown that in addition to reducing discipline disparities, restorative justice (RJ) has also been shown to promote positive student and teacher relationships and peer-to-peer relationships, healthier school climates, increased feelings of self-efficacy, improved academic performance, and social and emotional skill development. Each of these outcomes fosters school connectedness, which ultimately advances health equity for students.

Read more at Georgetown Law Center 

Mental Health and Communities of Color

Communities across the United States face a chronic epidemic of untreated mental health disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five American adults lives with a diagnosable mental health disorder in any given year; however, only 43 percent of those with mental health disorders receive treatment in any given year.1 In general, the prevalence rates of most mental health disorders are similar across racial and ethnic groups. At the same time, studies of rates of self-related exposure to childhood adversity indicate that
members of underrepresented minority groups are more likely to have experienced adversity during childhood — and there is expanding recognition that early exposure to traumatic experiences is itself a risk factor for later health problems, including anxiety and depression. Even in studies that reveal similar prevalence rates of mental health disorders across racial and ethnic groups, disparities exist with respect to diagnoses and treatment.

Read more at Georgetown Law Center of Poverty & Inequality

Why won’t society let Black girls be children?

Punishment was a hallmark of my educational experience.

It started when my preschool teacher labeled me as manipulative and intentionally disruptive. She even tried to film me to prove to my mother I was a problem — she never got that footage, and accused me of pretending to behave at the sight of the camera.

Although I was only 3 years old, she was convinced that my insistent hand raising and refusal to sit still were signs that I was malicious instead of simply understimulated. As soon as I was old enough to understand what happened, my mom didn’t hesitate to tell me the story each time I expressed self-doubt. She wanted me to understand I wasn’t a problem, I was simply an engaged learner. In a world where falling in line was more important than shining, my strengths were a threat.

Read more at The New York Times. 

In Indian Country, a crisis of missing women. And a new one when they’re found.

Prudence Jones had spent two years handing out “Missing” fliers and searching homeless camps and underpasses for her 28-year-old daughter when she got the call she had been praying for: Dani had been found. She was in a New Mexico jail, but she was alive.

It seemed like a happy ending to the story of one of thousands of Native American women and girls who are reported missing every year in what Indigenous activists call a long-ignored crisis. Strangers following Dani’s case on social media cheered the news this past July: “Wonderful!” “Thank you God!” “Finally, some good news.”

But as Ms. Jones visited Dani in jail, saw the fresh scars on her body and tried to comprehend the physical and spiritual toll of two years on the streets, her family, which is Navajo, started to grapple with a painful and lonely epilogue to its missing-persons saga.

Read more at The New York Times. 

‘Nobody saw me’: why are so many Native American women and girls trafficked?

va was found at dusk in late December 2016, standing in an Albuquerque parking lot. The 15-year-old Navajo girl had been missing more than two weeks when her grandmother got a call from the Bernalillo county sheriff’s office – saying her silver Ford truck had been recovered.

“I don’t care about the truck, what about my granddaughter?” Heidi demanded.

She drove three hours, from her house outside Gallup, and arrived a few minutes after 1am to see Eva emerge from the juvenile holding area, quiet and hunched. Her cheeks and neck looked skeletal. She kept her answers short and rolled her eyes. A familiar pattern was unfolding.

Back in the car, Heidi locked the doors. Give me my phone, Eva said.

Eva was among the thousands of human trafficking victims targeted and exploited in the US every year, of whom only 10% are ever identified. In New Mexico, a mere 160 cases have been opened since 2016. But, while Native Americans make up about 11% of the state’s population, they account for nearly a quarter of trafficking victims, according to data compiled from service organizations.

Read more at The Guardian. 

A just society doesn’t criminalize girls

Too frequently, educational justice is denied for girls – especially for girls of color. Schools should be the safest place for our children and yet, for many girls of color, the school environment adds painful weight to their already heavy emotional backpacks.

Across our country, black and brown girls are pushed out of school not because they pose any sort of threat, but for simply being who they are. Society too often deems our hair too distracting and our bodies too proactive, our voices too loud, and our attitudes too mean — demeaning our very existence before we even reach adulthood. According to the National Women’s Law Center, black girls in preschool are 54 percent of the girls receiving out-of-school suspensions despite making up only 20 percent of girls enrolled in preschool. Preschool.

Read more at the Boston Globe

Making missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls visible

In January, Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo woman from New Mexico, and Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation from Kansas, joined the U.S. House of Representatives as the first Native American women ever to serve in Congress; in June, the librarian of Congress named the first Native American woman as U.S. Poet Laureate—Joy Harjo, a member of the Muskogee Creek Nation.

A priority issue for Harjo, Haaland and Davids is the epidemic of violence against indigenous women and girls in the United States. “Congress has never had a voice like mine, a Native American woman who sees the blind spots that have existed for far too long,” Rep. Haaland said. “That’s why I’ve been working on multiple bills and legislation to address this crisis.”

Read more at Ms.Magazine 

Decriminalizing Black Girls

A report from the Legal Aid Justice Center earlier this year found a 60% increase in criminal charges against black girls in schools over the last three years, for everything from cutting the lunch line to running in the cafeteria.

It’s not just happening in Virginia, either. Monique Morris, an author, scholar and filmmaker, breaks down the causes behind the national crisis of black girls being removed from school in her new documentary, “Pushout: the Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.”

In limited release, the film is coming to Richmond on Nov 12 for a screening at Virginia Union University following a rally by Girls for a Change, a local nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of black girls.

Read more at Style Weekly. 

Black Kids Go Missing at a Higher Rate than White Kids.

The chilling story of Jayme Closs, the 13-year-old Wisconsin girl who was kidnapped after her parents were killed last year, was national news.

But people might be less familiar with the story of Arianna Fitts, a 2-year-old who went missing in 2016 before her mother was found brutally murdered in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Each of these cases is compelling, but the two didn’t receive the same amount of media attention. Some experts believe it’s because Closs is white and Fitts is black.

In fact, data shows that missing white children receive far more media coverage than missing black and brown children, despite higher rates of missing children among communities of color.

Read more at CNN. 

The Criminalization of Black Girlhood

“The Black woman is the most unprotected, unloved woman on earth. … She is the only flower on earth … that grows unwatered.” This quote by Kola Boof, a Sudanese American novelist, reigns true for black girls and women throughout every generation. For centuries, black girls and women have been criminalized, dehumanized, hypersexualized, degraded, objectified and stereotyped. From a young age, black girls are viewed as threats and often face criminalization in the very place where they should be getting an education: school.

Read more at the Ithacan.