A briefing paper prepared by Kenly Brown, University of California, Berkeley, for the Council on Contemporary Families’ Gender Matters Online Symposium (.pdf).  

Since the 1970s and early 1980s, feminist criminologists have explored the ways in which the distribution of justice and punishment varies, based on people’s marginalized (or privileged) identities, their vulnerability to state violence, and their exposure to interpersonal violence  (Potter, 2015Riche, 2012Chesney-Lind, 2006 ; Burgess-Proctor, 2006Bertrand, 1969Heidensohn, 1968). In my chapter with Berkeley’s Nikki Jones, “Gender, Race, and Crime: The Evolution of a Feminist Research Agenda,” in the Handbook of the Sociology of Genderwe argue that feminist scholars must “examine the relationship between interpersonal violence and institutional violence, as well as the feminist movement’s relationship to the state” (p.456). Ultimately, institutional violence shapes the conditions and outcomes of the interpersonal violence that marginalized groups navigate on a daily basis.

In my study, The Disciplinary Dumping Ground: The Construction of Black Girlhood in an Alternative School, I use a similar intersectional analysis to study the ways in which alternative education creates inequitable conditions of learning and access for Black girls who are vulnerable to exclusion, neglect, and violence in their everyday lives. I extend literature on exclusionary discipline (i.e. disproportionate levels of harsh punishment sanctioned against Black and Latinx students) to consider the significance of exclusionary spaces in education: alternative schools.

Benign intent, harmful result.

California has seven types of alternative schools: independent charter, community, juvenile court, opportunity, school of choice, community day, and continuation. Continuation schools enroll 75 percent of the 136,000 students enrolled in alternative schools, ostensibly providing a more positive environment for students who have difficulty learning in large school settings, are at-risk to not graduate, and/or have disruptive behavioral issues (Taylor, 2015 & Velasco and Gonzales, 2017). Despite this benign intent, teachers, students, and practitioners colloquially refer to alternative schools as dumping grounds used to warehouse students of color from under-resourced neighborhoods that traditional high schools find disruptive and/or underperforming (Dunning-Lozano, 2016Kelly, 1993). Indeed, Elder’s qualitative research found that continuation schools were less like a learning community than a correctional institution for students stigmatized as “outsiders” — academically failing, on parole, pregnant, and /or working (Elder, 1966).

My research explores how alternative schools contribute to the further isolation of marginalized students, particularly low-income Black girls, who are the most vulnerable to violence and neglect in their interpersonal lives. Studies have shown that Black girls are perceived as less innocent than white girls and are more harshly punished in school for not meeting mainstream expectations of middle-class white girls (Epstein, Blake, and González, 2017). Using ethnographic methods including direct and participant observations and semi-structured interviews, I find that the compounding effects of isolation, neglect, and danger in low-income communities render Black girls more vulnerable to be pushed into learning environments that are also isolated, lack stable funding, and have limited resources. An intersectional vulnerabilities framework shows how stereotypes associated with Black girls and women perceived as aggressive, domineering, or hypersexual increase their exposure to interpersonal violence in their everyday day lives and structural violence at the hands of institutions.


Kenly Brown, Ph.D. candidate in African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, with a designated emphasis in Women, Gender, and Sexuality. kenly@berkeley.edu. Nikki Jones, Associate Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, author of Between Good and Ghetto: African American Girls and Inner-City Violence and recently published The Chosen Ones: Black Men and the Politics of Redemption. njones@berkeley.edu. They are authors of “Gender, Race, and Crime: The Evolution of a Feminist Research Agenda,” in the Handbook of the Sociology of Gender.