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Building space in schools for Black girls to explore their identities and close the leadership gap

Session 1
Rebecca Coven, Swetha Narasimhan, and Workshop School students — The Workshop School

In mainstream United States society, femininity is often framed as an ideology that positions Whiteness, middle-class status, and heterosexuality as normative. This, in turn, renders Black femininity a subordinated gender identity not just to White women, but also in relation to men. Institutions that we participate in, such as schools and other educational settings, operate as “dominant structures” that frequently perpetuate these racial and gender hierarchies. Unfortunately, compounding racism and sexism lead us to make assumptions about the conditions of Black girls, particularly in our schools. Too often this can lead to the criminalization of Black girls in schools. Further, studies have shown that teen girls face a major barrier in closing the leadership gap that exists: gender bias.

It is thus necessary for us to consider how Black girls might be uniquely impacted by school and other disciplinary policies, as well as raise awareness among girls about gender bias in order to close the leadership gap. In this inquiry we seek to understand how the implementation of a female empowerment and female leadership afterschool program at a West Philadelphia high school has an impact on the experiences of female-identifying students. Specifically, we seek to provide insights on introducing empowerment through education, relevant skill development for young females, exposure to career and postsecondary exploration, and building healthy relationships through an afterschool program at a school that serves majority (70 percent) male students.

Conversational Practice

This session will be formatted as as conversation among presenters and participants about what assumptions are made about the conditions of Black girls, how Black girls might be uniquely impacted by school policies, and how organizations, systems, and policies create an environment that is conducive or not conducive to the healthy development of Black girls. In order to put the voices of our students at the center of our work - and in order to create leadership opportunities for our participants - we will co-present our findings with some of our student program participants, who will share their own experiences as Black girls in school and their own reflections on the program. Our young women will lead conversation participants in activities and lessons that they designed as part of our co-constructed curriculum on gender justice.

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