June 5, 2015

Penn Summit on Black Girls and Women in Education aims to make a difference

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The hashtag #BlackGirlsMatter is a campaign to create a gender-inclusive framework in social justice work.

More than 100 educators, administrators, professors, students, and professionals convened this May to bring the conversation beyond Twitter. The Penn Summit on Black Girls and Women in Education (BWGE), sponsored by Penn GSE’s The Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education (CSREE), focused on the experiences and realities of Black girls and women in educational contexts – and what participants could do next.

Keynote speaker Kimberlé Crenshaw, a Distinguished Professor at the UCLA School of Law and Professor of Law at Columbia University, emphasized the importance of #BlackGirlsMatter. She discussed issues such as school-to-prison pipelines and mass incarceration of women of color. Crenshaw, who is also the co-founder of the African-American Policy Forum, spoke passionately about centering the voices of Black girls and women in educational research.

The committee was comprised of master's and doctoral students representing Higher Education, Education, Culture, & Society, and Teaching, Learning, & Leadership.

Charlotte Jacobs, a doctoral candidate in Teaching, Learning, & Leadership, led the committee. She stressed the importance of drafting action plans "to create individual and institutional change in different areas affecting the education of Black girls and women, such as research, practice, and policy." As such, the committee encouraged attendees to form a plan of action to bring back to their respective classroom, office, or organization.

Panels and workshops included Penn GSE professors Vivian Gadsden and CSREE Executive Director Shaun Harper. Professor Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, whose research includes studying characters of color in adolescent literature, praised the conference. “It was a fantastic day,” Thomas said. 

Kyndall Clark, a 2nd year student in the Master of Liberal Arts program for Gender and Community Development and member of Penn GSE’s Shared Solutions research team, served on the BGWE committee. “The main takeaway for me is that we must be more cognizant of our sisters' suffering,” Clark said. “We must seek to always include them in our activism because they have been silenced for so long.”

While the topics discussed were complex, with many requiring change over generations, Clark recalled one young woman from “The Voices: Black Girls and Women Speak Out” panel offering a suggestion that everyone could implement immediately.

“When questioned as to what needs to be asked during research, she replied that Black girls and women are seldom asked the simple question, ‘How are you doing?’” Clark explained. “This is due to the perception many people have that Black girls and women are always ‘fine,’” she explained. “Including them in research and activism is the first step to allowing their voices to be heard.”

At the end of the conference, participants were provided with a list of potential partners willing to help with their action plan.

BGWE is an edition of the Penn Summit Series, part of Penn GSE’s mission to provide inexpensive professional development in the field of educational research. The summits are hosted by The Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, which brings together faculty from Penn GSE and various departments in the School of Arts and Sciences, the Perelman School of Medicine, the School of Social Policy and Practice, the Wharton School of Business, Penn Law School, and the School of Nursing.