Kiara DawFollow

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Social Justice and Community Engagement


This project is interested in investigating the impacts of educational disengagement on Black students’ educational experiences in Ontario school boards. I refer to exclusionary discipline as the removal of students from the classroom through disciplinary measures, such as suspensions and expulsions. Through exclusionary discipline, many students experience educational disengagement, which involves becoming withdrawn, detached, apathetic or uninterested in school or a more general lack of school belonging. This research aims to better understand students’ self-understandings about their experiences of educational disengagement, including the events leading up to disciplinary measures, their encounters with educators, and the impact of disciplinary measures on their interests in school.

Significant research in the Ontario educational context indicates that suspensions and expulsions are extremely detrimental to Black students’ educational outcomes. A large majority of these findings have been conducted through policy reviews or from the perspectives of authority figures such as principals, teachers and/or policymakers. While many studies have interacted with Black students directly, very few consider how they make sense of their experiences with educational disengagement. I employ Critical Race Theory to contextualize and analyze Black students’ experiences with educational disengagement.

Through qualitative interviews with three former students at various Ontario school boards, I present first-hand accounts of Black students’ experiences with educational disengagement. The data indicates that racial profiling continues to impact Black students’ educational outcomes as well as shape and constrain student educator interactions and relationships. Additionally, I provide evidence that experiences with disciplinary exclusion continue to negatively impact Black students’ engagement with education and learning. I also reveal that Black students feel they are unable to find the space to cope with oppression in their schools which forces them to shift from coping to finding strategies to survive. Finally, I provide a critical reframing of the concept of resilience to demonstrate the urgency needed to shift our focus on Black students’ ability to withstand hardship to the reasons why they experience them in the first place.