Worldwide, education is one of the keys to success and a prosperous life. United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Number 4 Quality Education states that: “Education enables upward socioeconomic mobility and is a key to escaping poverty.” This is especially important for girls. The education of girls not only helps them achieve their individual potential, but also helps to break intergenerational cycles of poverty and disadvantage. In Canada, anti-Blackness continues to be entrenched in some public high schools. Various groups including Black or African Canadian parents and students continue to work towards maintaining and/or creating elementary and secondary schools that are equitable for all students. Progress has been slow.
My study uses the lens of race to focus on anti-Black racism and efforts made by current and past students in some of Ontario’s high schools to advocate for equity in schools. Black high school students continue to experience systemic discrimination in Canada. Codjoe, (2001), Dei et al, (2000), Oba, (2018), for example, have documented this, showing that racial stereotyping is a constant feature of students’ lives and experiences in school settings.
In Ontario, Black students are more likely to be treated differently (or less than) by teachers, school administrators, and in some situations, their peers. Students are treated differently through the application of policies, such as zero tolerance policies aimed at disciplining Black bodies with suspensions and expulsions. Black students are often inappropriately streamed in high school into different educational trajectories. Streaming for Black students usually occurs because of their perceived lower academic ability and the view that they are underachievers. This results in an overrepresentation of Black students in non-academic programs, and the possibility of a lower socio-economic status later in life. There is also an indication that school boards do not adequately fight against reports of anti-Black racism.
Previous studies have drawn attention to the types of actions taken by Ontario’s Black high school students to push back at practices considered oppressive (James et al, 2010, Maynard, 2017, Oba, 2018). Such studies highlight student motivations for resisting school structures, their personal transformation journeys and the types of actions considered resistive to highlight the different ways students navigate school processes (Wood, 2011). Sometimes, studies that discuss the resistive acts of Black youth focus mostly on their negative behavioural issues instead of highlighting their efforts at promoting institutional change (Kelly, 2018). This research draws attention to some of the activities and events organized by Black students to change practices and policies in some of Ontario’s high schools. It will also contribute to fully understanding the successful and unsuccessful efforts of Black students to change policies and practices in institutions.
My research captures the experiences of students who founded or joined social justice clubs in some high schools to organize activities including Black History month events. Highlighting these experiences will add unique race and gender-based perspectives to the Black education experience in Canada and contribute to the elimination of anti-Black racism in Ontario high schools.
My study provides information about how participants, specifically first and second - generation Black girls, with African immigrant parents use their agency to contribute to efforts to change policies or practices within their schools. The study captures participant views, interactions, and experiences regarding activism in high schools across Ontario in the words of 20 Black girls. I interview first and second-generation Black girls with African immigrant parents because their voices are relatively silent in transformational student resistance literature in Canada. Black girls have unique school related experiences which are usually different from that of Black boys. These amazing girls have a desire to contribute to efforts to create equitable schools and they deserve to be treated equitably in High schools in Canada.
Through sharing their experiences, these girls provide insights to guide changes for future Black high school girls and other marginalized students. These ideas will provide the recommendations that teachers and school staff can use to support students who are interested in fostering social change at school, and support the elimination of institutionalised anti-Blackness policies and practices.
Changes are slowly taking place in Ontario high schools. One example is the elimination of high school streaming slated for September 2022, and individual school districts forming anti-Black racism strategies. Some school boards in the Greater Toronto Area have started collecting race-based data. My research will highlight the voices of those most affected by anti-Black racism in high schools to ensure change is meaningful for them. Black girls should have no limits on their success and equitable education across Ontario and Canada is integral to this process.