The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has become a national model in addressing systemic injustices faced by students of color, with progressive programs like the District’s Office of African American Male Achievement showing proven success.
But what it has been slow to address are the unique challenges and discrimination faced by girls of color in the school district.
A new report by Alliance for Girls (AFG) titled “Valuing Girls Voices: The Lived Experiences Of Girls Of Color In Oakland Unified School District,” changes that.
“This is the first time we have seen Oakland really taking the time and effort to talk to girls of color and to hear what their school experiences are,” said Iminah Ahmad, the lead consultant for the report and a graduate of Oakland Technical High School.
AFG, which serves more than 250,000 girls and young women annually in the San Francisco Bay Area, commissioned the study by Bright Research Group, a women- and minority-owned consulting firm based in Oakland.
Looking at experiences of African American, Latina, Native American and Asian/Pacific Islander girls, the report presents several key findings.
For instance, it revealed that while only 30 percent of the girls in OUSD are Black, they make up 60 percent of girls who are suspended.
It also found that sexual harassment is a part of the everyday school experience for girls, and particularly for girls of color. For one of the study’s nine focus groups, girls even reported being sexually harassed by a staff member.
The study also states that while all girls of color face structural gender and race discrimination in schools, African American girls were found to have uniquely negative experiences.
“African American girls are having the most negative experiences across the board, and we really want to focus our attention to finding out why this is happening and what we can do,” said Ahmad.
The study outlines several suggestions to mitigate negative experiences for girls of color in OUSD.
It lists creating gender-specific girls’ programs, more opportunities for adults to hear the experiences of girls of color in schools, a task force for girls and adults to review policies to prevent sexual misconduct at school, and supporting OUSD’s new African American Girls and Young Women Achievement initiative, which was announced last month.
Emma Mayerson, executive director at Alliance for Girls, emphasized how the study’s findings are not unique to Oakland.
“Many of these things, like the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and Black girls being uniquely negatively impacted by structural discrimination, are national trends,” she said.
“But what is missing on a national level are models for how to turn these trends around,” Mayerson continued. “That’s what we are doing, and we are taking the collective wisdom of the Oakland community in terms of how to serve girls of color best.”
Looking ahead, AFG plans to release its ‘Meeting Girls’ Needs Toolkit’ later this month. The kit will include steps and recommendations for policy, programs and training to improve experiences for girls of color in OUSD.
AFG is also meeting monthly with Superintendent Antwan Wilson and more often with his chief staff, Mayerson said, to mobilize community resources to better the lives of girls of color in OUSD.