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The Marathon Continues: Adding Race to the Gender Equity Discussion

Karmen Rouland

By Karmen Rouland
July 5, 2017

On June 22, I attended the National Coalition of Women and Girls in Education’s Capitol Hill briefing where they released a report, Title IX: Advancing Opportunity through Equity in Education, to commemorate the 45th anniversary of Title IX. The event celebrated the strides that have been made in education and sports in bringing equity to women’s issues. I heard speeches by Neena Chaudry, of the National Women’s Law Center; Esther Lofgren, 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and Women’s Sports Foundation member; Mimi Lufkin from the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity; Dr. Roberta Rincon, of the Society of Women Engineers; and Pam Yuen, American Association of University Women. They spoke of the progress made because of Title IX as it relates to sexual harassment and sexual assault, issues facing pregnant and parenting students, and highlighted the connection between Title IX and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

Briefly buoyed by the energy at the briefing, I was brought back down to earth reading a report released a few days later on how the public views and treats young Black girls. The Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality published Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood, highlighting the troubled perspectives about and experiences of Black girls in education. The authors, Rebecca Epstein, Jamilia Blake, and Thalia Gonzalez, put forth some startling findings: using a sample of 325 adults (74% White and 63% female) from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, their data show that Black girls are viewed as less innocent and more adult-like than their White peers, especially in the age range of 5-14 years old. The authors term the notion of “removing the consideration of childhood as a mediating factor in Black youths’ behavior” as adultification. Findings from their study suggest that participants believe that Black girls need less nurturing; need less protection; are more independent; know more about adult topics; know more about sex; need to be supported less; and need to be comforted less.

Pause for a moment and let that sink in. A Black child as young as five years old is seen, in some cases, as an adult and less innocent than other children who are also five years old. While shocking to read, these data confirm what we already know and have witnessed about the treatment and punishment of Black boys and Black girls. I am frightened and saddened because I am a Black woman raising Black children. My daughter is five years old and will be starting Kindergarten in the fall. It is hard to believe that someone would look in her eyes, which are bright and full of all the innocence and promise in the world, and think that she, somehow, is not deserving of the best this world has to offer. I cannot conceive that someone would think her strong enough to pick herself up when she skins her knee. Childhood and adolescence are critical periods for self-esteem and identity development. Ideally, we would like to think that gender and racial stereotypes do not affect self-views or academic outcomes. However, research says different (see Evans, Copping, Rowley, & Kurtz-Costes, 2011; Rouland, Rowley, & Kurtz-Costes, 2013). The intersection of race and gender is important and complex and should not be ignored as we celebrate the 45th anniversary of Title IX.

The report, Title IX: Advancing Opportunity through Equity in Education, provides some strategies for continued progress:

  1. All stakeholder groups should ensure awareness of Title IX and its requirements by using several mechanisms for communication and training.
  2. Data collection and reporting will provide necessary information to track outcomes for women and girls so that policies can be created to assist with the implementation of Title IX.
  3. Title IX must be enforced to ensure continued protections and compliance with the law.
  4. Enhancements to some areas of the law such as greater funding for gender equity and provision of additional guidance will ensure an equitable education for all students.

If we educate ourselves and recognize our own biases, we will be one step closer to ensuring an equitable education for all students.

References

Epstein, R., Blake, J. J., & Gonzalez, T. (June 27, 2017). Girlhood interrupted: The erasure of Black girls’ childhood. Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality. Washington, DC.

Evans, A. B., Copping, K. E., Rowley, S. J., & Kurtz-Costes, B. (2011). Academic self-concept in Black adolescents: Do race and gender stereotypes matter. Self and Identity, 10, 263-277.

National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE). Title IX at 45: Advancing opportunity through equity in education. Washington, DC: NCGWE, 2017.

Rouland, K. K., Rowley, S. J., & Kurtz-Costes, B. (2013). Self-views of African American youth are related to gender stereotypes and ability attributions of their parents. Self and Identity, 12, 382-399.

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