U of Chicago police incident again highlights education's need to address biases
- A University of Chicago police department officer shot and seriously wounded a student on the institution's campus last week. The department, which has long been under fire for racial profiling, is facing scrutiny again with this incident, involving a male African-American student.
- According to The Chicago Reporter, the April 3 incident came at a time of heightened vehicle and pedestrian stops by the University of Chicago Police Department, most of which were targeted toward African-Americans. According to the school's own reporting, African-American students make up just 4% of the total student body, yet a 2016 analysis by the Reporter found 75% of drivers stopped and 93% of field interviews conducted by the department were for African-Americans.
- In the aftermath of last week's incident, the Chronicle of Higher Education examined a trend of issues surrounding private college police departments in particular, raising questions about accountability and transparency. The trend underscores concerns about racial profiling, particularly in cities where racial tensions between police and citizens are already high, like Baltimore and Chicago.
The timing of this latest incident coincides with a report from the Government Accountability Office highlighting school discipline trends which disproportionately punish black students, boys and disabled students — and the University of Chicago student injured there last week checked all three boxes. The GAO report found consistent results across school poverty levels, type of school and type of disciplinary action. Though black students accounted for just 15.5% of all public school students, they represent about 39% of students suspended from school, the report found.
It is no wonder, then, that there remains a "boy crisis" in education — though around the world, girls are less likely to enter school, boys are significantly more likely to be held back, suspended, fail or drop out than their female counterparts and are more likely to be labeled as special needs. When the conversation is disaggregated by race, the outcomes are even more disparate for black and Latino young males.
These disparities often stem from the biases of the adults in charge, whether it's teachers who don't take the time to connect with these students, a pre-held perception about black students in general that black males are more threatening and black girls as young as five are less innocent than their white counterparts, or a belief that black students are not as smart or cannot learn as well because of some genetic inferiority.
The solution starts with hiring black and brown individuals at all levels of the organization, from administration to the teaching force, but that's not the whole picture — over 50% of the officers on the University of Chicago's police force are black, and the disparities persist. The real key to solving this problem across the entire education pipeline is focusing on relationships. When teachers, faculty members, administrators, police officers see students for the people they are, they are less likely to project their own biases on those students and more likely to contextualize any incident with a personal knowledge of that student's circumstances.
Education as an entire enterprise must play a role in breaking down some of these barriers and biases, but the current system continues to favor the elite and neglect others, specifically students of color, according to a Center for American progress report released late last week. Change will require a top-down mandate, but cannot move forward without buy-in from bottom-up, which means lots of communication between all stakeholders, increased cultural and interpersonal and pedagogical training, and intentionality around setting a completely inclusive school culture that we have not seen to this point.
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