“I feel [school] administrations see education as a privilege rather than a right.” These are the words of high school senior Yesenia Y. Rodriguez: Latina, Youth United for Change Representative, and co-author of our report, WE ARE NOT INVISIBLE: Latina Girls, Mental Health, and Philadelphia Schools. “They don’t recognize us as human beings,” she says.
Yesenia knows firsthand that treating Latina girls differently—and schools’ lack of support and care for Latinas—leads to school pushout. And due to the lack of public knowledge on this issue, Latina girls have been forced to suffer in silence.
Latina girls experience school pushout in a variety of ways, leading to decreased educational, financial, and personal success in their futures when compared to white counterparts. In my home state of California, they are 1.3 times more likely to be suspended than white girls. And these numbers aren’t because they misbehave more often. Latina girls do not commit more frequent or serious offenses compared to white girls, but across the country, they are disproportionately suspended from school. Taking away class time for gendered and racialized punishments—like dress code violations or being sent to the office for “talking back”—shames girls and tells them that their identity makes them unfit for a (white) educational environment. It tells them that they do not belong.
In my school district, Latina girls were routinely suspended for racialized offenses, and swiftly pushed out if they didn’t conform. My closest friend from high school, Aisha, was extremely involved behind the scenes in the administration and student government. Of her time at Aptos High, she saw that out-of-school suspensions were reserved for Latina girls. “Every student I knew who was suspended from our high school was Latinx, and it was most often for reasons of truancy or ‘behavioral issues’,” she said. Many Latina girls whose families were struggling were either suspended or eventually forced to drop out due to issues with truancy, even if it was outside of the student’s or family’s control.
As a Latina herself, Aisha was close to being suspended for truancy due to family medical reasons, despite the school being aware of her situation, and her staying on top of her school work and extracurricular activities. She avoided suspension by transferring schools, then returning a semester later. “I was lucky enough to not be suspended, despite coming close,” she said. “Many Brown girls in the district are not as lucky, and their personal stories speak to the power that disciplinary policy can have on a person’s life.”
These kinds of stories—which can, unfortunately, be found in any school district, anywhere—are why the National Women’s Law Center launched Let Her Learn: to combat discriminatory discipline and create schools where girls are safe, supported, and respected. Thanks to the Let Her Learn website, I found my school district’s suspension rates for Latina girls. I learned that in the 2013-14 school year, Latina girls were almost twice as likely be suspended compared to white girls in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. These data back up what I knew to be true: they pushed out Latina girls based on nothing but their identity.
If you’re curious as to how your own school district might be disproportionately disciplining girls of color, head on over to our district map learn more. Once you see your results, use this information to speak up for Latinas and other groups of girls of color. Educate others in your community about what school pushout for Latinas looks like and learn more about what we can do to Let Her Learn.