Georgetown researchers examine how Black girls are treated in the classroom

This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.

It’s the summer of Barbie where “Girl Power” reigns supreme. But, if you are the parent of a girl of color heading back to school in the fall, your daughter is more likely than her white counterparts to be suspended, arrested or expelled.

“Girls of color are consistently punished and punished more harshly than their white peers,” Rebecca Epstein, executive director and founder of the Georgetown Center on Gender Justice and Opportunity at Georgetown Law, told WTOP.

She said the center researches the subject and provides a unique focus “because what we’re looking at are issues that affect young people that stand at the intersection of their race and their gender.”

According to Epstein, girls of color are also not served well by other institutional systems, including hospitals, the juvenile justice system and schools.

Epstein said that being a girl has never been easy, regardless of race. However, a recent report by the CDC revealed that mental health and sexual abuse are two factors severely impacting adolescent girls.

For girls of color, the numbers of kids impacted are higher than ever before, and Epstein said she believes the two factors are connected along with a host of other issues.

Georgetown researchers tried to find out why girls of color are treated differently, and one of the factors identified is adultification bias — a form of prejudice where adults treat minority children as if they are more mature than they actually are

“Where adults of any race see black girls as older and less innocent than they really are,” Epstein said. “If you’re viewing a girl as an adult, you are, of course, less likely to extend leniency and compassion and protection toward them than you would a girl that you do find looks innocent.”

Epstein said researchers are also looking into solutions.

“We are turning the corner now into developing trainings and getting the word out,” she said.

Researchers are also trying to make their research more accessible to everyone. They are working on an adultification bias training for judges as well as training for prosecutors, police, doctors and teachers, Epstein said.

She concluded that “making people aware of their biases or potential biases is a critical first step to overcoming their biases.”

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Stephanie Gaines-Bryant

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant is an Anchor and Reporter for WTOP. Over the past 20 years, Stephanie has worked in several markets, including Baltimore, Washington, Houston and Charleston, holding positions ranging from newscaster to morning show co-host.

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