Push Out is Real: The Effects of Harsh Disciplining in Schools on Black Girls

Push Out is Real: The Effects of Harsh Disciplining in Schools on Black Girls

On April 6th, 2016 Open Society Foundation hosted a book launch event for Monique Morris’ latest book, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. The event included a panel style conversation featuring the author and fellow Movement Maker, Joanne N. Smith, of Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) alongside two GGE youth organizers, Miasia Clark and Khadija Hudson.

The event opened with a video featuring the voices of young women from GGE sharing their experiences around “push out” which included suspension or expulsion from school for a wide range of reasons including talking back to teacher (who said something disrespectful), breaking a teacher’s sharpener, taking exactly 6 minutes during a bathroom break (breaking the school’s 5 min. bathroom policy), and having hairpins set off a school metal detector (and refusing to take them out to enter). These seemingly minor infractions have severe and harmful impacts on the educational success of black girls. Monique Morris’ work highlights the severity of push-out on black girls: “Black girls are 16 percent of girls in schools, but 42 percent of girls receiving corporal punishment, 42 percent of girls expelled with or without educational services, 45 percent of girls with at least one out-of-school suspension, 31 percent of girls referred to law enforcement, and 34 percent of girls arrested on campus.” If folks didn’t know before, push-out is real. The young women in the video and on the panel also pointed to the lack of respect they were treated with in their school buildings and the overall lack of regard schools as institutions of have for black girls’ as worthy of dignity. The young women shared how teachers were quick to stereotype them as “angry” and “aggressive” without taking into account who they really were and not really caring about them as actual people. Sadly, these stories were not unique and are commonplace in my own work with young women of color in Newark, NJ. Schools, for many of the youth I work with, are unsafe, unsupportive and overall oppressive spaces that further isolate them from their sense of self and value. It is upsetting and painful to hear how our schools fail our girls daily. It is a humble reminder of the importance of the programs of organizations like GGE and Sadie Nash that are committed to creating spaces for young of color to feel both safe and seen.

L to R: Joanne N. Smith, Miasia Clark, Monique Morris, Khadija Hudson
L to R: Joanne N. Smith, Miasia Clark, Monique Morris, Khadija Hudson

I was moved by the way both Monique and Joanne effortlessly shared the space with the young women on the panel. They role-modeled beautifully what it means to center the voices of young women and to support youth advocacy and leadership.

I was also struck by multiple points that Monique and the panelists shared during the event that I need to share right away! Below are a few points that resonated with me that I want to further explore with my community and I want to invite us all to reflect on.

  1. Safety is something you need to co-construct with young women.
  2. How do we move from the language of trauma-informed to “healing-informed” work?
  3. How do we shift schools to a culture and consciousness around identity and intersectionality?
  4. “Leading with love…We need to reject the notion that (black girls) are throw away…” How do we center and operate from a place of love for our girls? We have to make a serious commitment to seeing them.
  5. How do we prepare girls from further victimization? We need to give them the tools to self-advocate.
  6. We need to move from “What did she do?” as our first response to black girls and discipline to “What happened/what’s happening?” And eventually a more healing-informed response which would include considering how we can be more responsive to what’s going on in her life.
  7. Healing power of the narrative. There is power in telling your/our story. As adults, we need to ask young women what they need to feel safe. We need to ask them: “What did the system do to fail you?”
  8. We need to center black girls as part of the decision making process – in our research, in our schools, in our philanthropy.


I left the talk excited to read Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools and to continue these conversations during the weekend events at Black Girl Movement Conference in New York CIty.

Lorena Estrella
Lorena Estrella
Artist, Educator, & Facilitator

Lorena is a Jersey girl born to Dominican immigrant parents. She is deeply committed to social justice work in communities of color and to elevating the voices of young women of color. Learn More

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