Tag Archives: school-to-prison pipeline

Post the Sixty-First or On the Unbearable Whiteness of College

It is a documented fact that poverty coincides greatly with skin color. By the measure of the last Census, the percentage of white people living in poverty was 14%. The percentage of Black people living in poverty is 36% and for Latino people it is 35%. That is more than half times more than the percentage for white people. The reason for this is manifold and outside of the scope of this piece. Suffice it to say that it is due in large part to an inheritance of enslavement and genocide. The point I am trying to make here is that more people of color live in poverty than do their white counterparts.

Education is often cited as the way out of poverty. People with bachelor’s degrees earn more than those with high school diplomas. People with master’s degrees earn more than people with bachelor’s and so on. With higher education, people say, one can make a better life for one’s self, especially if one grew up in poverty. Education is the price of admission into Middle America and the American Dream. There is no better way to pull yourself up by your bootstraps than going to school.

If this is the case, why are most college campuses so white? Here at Northeastern, 28% of the student body are people of color that were born in the US. In other words, the student body is primarily white. If education is the key out of poverty, why aren’t college campuses flooded with people of color?

My Advanced Writing class. There are 2 POC, including myself, in this class of 9.

The racists among us would cite the inherent laziness, stupidity and criminal nature of people of color. And while most people wouldn’t cop to that in those words, I can’t tell you how many times people have used coded language to say just that. For example, implying that so-and-so wouldn’t have gotten in if it wasn’t for affirmative action or, worse, that affirmative action is racist against white people. I remember once, after a presentation, a white classmate told me later, with surprise in his voice, “You are so articulate!” As if being articulate was a trait reserved for white people. Or saying that so-and-so isn’t, like, “stereotypically” black because look at the way they dress and they are doing so well in college!

Or worst yet, “28% of the students are people of color? That’s so diverse!”

Yeah… I have to keep Advil in my bag at all times, just in case.

I would counter these subtle, or not-so-subtle, racists that the reason why college campuses are so white is not because people of color are lazy or stupid or criminal but rather because of the systemic injustices that our education system has. There is very little support for people of color, who live in predominantly poor urban neighborhoods with shoddily funded schools, to get a decent high school education. Let alone a good one. Not only that but brown children, especially brown male children, are routinely disciplined much more harshly then their white counterparts. They are constantly being told that they are lazy, stupid and criminal. They are already written off as failures before anyone even says go.

And then there is the School to Prison Pipeline, which siphons underperforming youth into the juvenile justice system.

And even if they go to a decent school, with supportive and affirming teachers, the violence that often permeates their lives (which is due to more structural injustice) often prevents them from applying themselves to their studies and doing well. When one is worried if one will survive the walk home, it’s kinda hard to care if you are gonna pass a math exam.

Look at the all beautiful white people...

All in all, the deck is stacked against you if you are brown.  There is little to no support to help you succeed if you are a person of color. And most white people can conveniently ignore this because it doesn’t affect them; so who cares, right?

College campuses, including Northeastern, are mostly white because there is little to no investment in getting brown people to college. Those in power are not interested in empowering the disempowered and so the support is not there.

The other reason why Northeastern is so white is because this school does not provide enough financial support for low-income students. People of color and low-income people might get in, but without scholarship and grants, they cannot hope to afford to come here. Since middle-upper class and upper class families are usually white, it makes sense why they would make up most of the student body. When money is spent to build and power some foolish

Holy crap! Two black women! It seemed that all the POC on campus moved in groups. Strength in numbers!

piece of engineering “artwork” and finance a million dollar home for the president, it’s clear to see where the financial priorities of the university lay. I’ll give you a hint: not with students of color.

At this point you might say to me, “None of this is news, Morgan. Why write about it now?”

I write this now because even though none of it is news, it all bares repeating. Here at Northeastern, on a mostly white campus, it is exceedingly easy to ignore and write off the issues that don’t directly affect some of us. But by ignoring these issues, we are only contributing to them. As Desmond Tutu, the South African activist, once said,

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

I write this critique to spark conversation and engage this student body to move away from its lethargic, apolitical nature. For far to long we have languished in this space of “neutrality”, of aligning with the status quo through inaction. For far to long we have failed to interrogate and challenge not

One of the many quads. Trying to spot POC is like playing "Where's Waldo?"

only Northeastern administration but also those greater systems of power that keep us oppressed. College campuses used to be the center of social change and gave so much power movements that worked for change; The Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Anti-War Movement, the Queer Rights Movement, just to name a few. Students have been at the forefront of so many movements. But that no longer seems to be the case. That main concern of students today is not how can we make this world a better place but where the next pseudo-frat party is.

I write this critique, also, to tell my Black and Brown sisters and brothers that they are not alone. I know that, for myself, the sense of isolation that I feel when people who do not share my struggle surround me is very corrosive to my spirit. I get discouraged, apathetic and frustrated. So I write this to not only remind myself of the importance of the struggle but also to remind you, dear reader, that you are not alone.

One thing is certain, however: to remain ignorant in the face of these struggles is to be part of the problem.

Advertisements

Post the Fifteenth or Why Youth Empowerment is Important

Empowerment is defined as “increasing the spiritual, political, social, or economic strength of individuals and communities”. Youth Empowerment, than, would specifically be the act of increasing the spiritual, political, social, and economic strength of young people. This can take a myriad different forms. From informal conversations on agism and adultism to formal workshops on how young people (and older people) are subject to subtle forms of oppression. It can take the form of skill sharing and providing free counseling services to engaging young people to become leaders in their community.

Another aspect of youth empowerment that is important to address is the intersectionality of identity and that empowering young people also means empowering the different parts of their identity. It is critical that we empower not only young people but also queer young people and young people of color. It is vital that we understand that empowering young people of color will look different then empowering white young people because of the history of oppression that surrounds people of color. We need to be aware that young people are not a monolith and that every young person needs something different in order to succeed.

Finally, its important to recognize that young people are the experts are their own experience. Its important to recognize that they are fully capable, intelligent people who need to be met at their level. Youth empowerment doesn’t work with the attitude of “I want to give them what I didn’t have.” This attitude doesn’t work because it just reinforces the paternalistic and adultist assumption that young people don’t know what they want or what is good for them. If we are to successfully empower young people we need enter with the attitude of ignorance and ask what they need and how we can help them. We need to admit that we don’t know what they need and ask.

In a lot of ways, educators and teachers are one of the principle providers of youth empowerment. Speaking from experience, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for several teachers that I met in high school and college. I wouldn’t have the skills and be as self-possessed as I am today were it not for the months and years I spent outside of class learning from my teachers, specifically my ninth grade biology teacher Robyn Moore. Her story and the story we share is for another post but suffice to say that I owe much of what I am to her.

Which is why I was appalled when I read this Color Lines article. The article details, in case you don’t want to read it, that a white first grade teacher (who teaches in a school of mostly Black and Latino/a students) posted on Facebook that she was “not a teacher – i’m a warden for future criminals”. This is reprehensible for so many reasons. Not the least of which that it criminalizes not only being a person of color but also being a young person. By automatically assuming that young people of color are going to grow up to be criminals you are condemning them to the cycle that keeps everyone oppressed. Young people of color need to be trusted and inspired to break beyond that cycle. Telling them, overtly or covertly, that they will only grow up to be criminals does not help.

This type of behavior speaks to the pandemic and endemic nature of the school-to-prison pipeline. It is spread by schools with limited resources to educate and inspire students which in turn creates apathy and listlessness among the students which in turn discourages the educators and makes them jaded and bitter. That in turn feeds the cycle of violence and students act out and are punished unfairly for it. Young people are imprisoned and killed because of this cycle. Of course there are educators here and there that fight against that, like Ms. Moore, but it is clearly not enough.

This is why places like Out Youth are so important. Not only because it gives young people a safe place to be but also because it empowers young people to be themselves and break out of the cycle of violence. Obviously Out Youth has a lot of work to do in that regard but the very fact that it exists is much better then not. It shows them that they don’t have to wait until adulthood to achieve their dreams.

In conclusion,Youth empowerment is important because it saves lives.

And if we are going to change this world for the better we need to let young people know that they not the future, they are the present. They are the change that they want to see today.