Public youth resistance movements in 2019 and 2020 exposed the entrenchment of racism, sexism, heteronormativity, and classism across New York City independent schools (NYCIS). In order to support the imminent need for schools to provide effective diversity, inclusion, and equity supports that address broad issues of school climate, relationships, and pedagogy, there is a need to better understand the specific, hyperlocal experiences of Black/African Descendant (BAD) students, who occupy several unique, unexplored spaces in educational research. The following four research questions helped to conceptualize the experiences that support and hinder the academic success and long term well-being of BAD students in NYCIS:
1. What kinds of multimodal and linguistic resources do BAD high school youth and alumni/ae of NYCIS use to express their identities as members of various communities?
2. How do ideologies of language, race, class, and gender impact perceived schooling experiences of BAD high school youth and alumni/ae? What challenges and supports do BAD high school youth and alumni/ae encounter in NYCIS?
3. According to BAD alumni/ae, what are the lasting impacts of their NYCIS experiences on their present day lives?
4. How do multimodal, public narratives of BAD alumni/ae describe ideologies of language, race, class, and gender in NYCIS?
In this relational narrative case study, I used purposeful sampling to identify six total participants for in-depth interviews, and I employed document analysis of four fiction and non-fiction narratives. In summary, I collected and analyzed four written narratives, six interview transcripts, and two visual collages as data sources. My central theories of translanguaging, critical race theory, and intersectionality guided all aspects of study design, and I engage in critical race methodology, which is crystallized in explicitly exploring counterstory as narrative inquiry (Berry & Cook, 2019; Kim, 2016; Martinez, 2020; Miller et al., 2020) and centering the role of intersectionality (Berry & Cook, 2019). The interview findings led to the development of 28 thematic codes centered on six salient topics: (a) relationships with peers, (b) relationships with teachers, (c) rigorous academics, (d) school culture, (e) expressing sexuality, and (f) hyperlocal literacies. These findings contribute to research on BAD students in independent schools illustrating that racism and classism continue to negatively impact the socialization of middle- and lower-income Black students (Datnow & Cooper, 1997; DeCuir-Gunby, 2007; French, 2018; Horvat & Antonio, 1999; Jacobs, 2017). This study also adds to the general body of research on the socialization of youth in elite independent schools (Coleman & Hoffer, 1987; Gaztambide-Fernández, 2009; French, 2018; Kane, 1992; Khan, 2011; Powell, 1996).
Findings for RQ1 were that BAD high school students used both linguistic and semiotic resources to express their identities. They strategically used the breadth of their linguistic repertoires to challenge raciolinguistic ideologies (Rosa & Flores, 2017) and position themselves as members of NYCIS communities. They also disrupted dominant semiotic discourses related to hair grooming by wearing their natural coily hair, discussed the importance of languaging to identity construction, and actively translanguaged with African American Language and Mainstream American English throughout the interview.
Findings for RQ2 are that BAD participants experienced psychological, emotional, and physical harm resulting from dehumanizing ideologies of language, race, class, and gender. Raciolinguistic ideologies in general (Martin et al., 2019; Rosa & Flores, 2017), and anti-Black linguistic racism specifically (Baker-Bell, 2020) contributed to the linguistic expression of their BAD identities being degraded. In addition, BAD participants experienced deficit narratives of racial inferiority, hypersexuality, undesirability, and criminalization. In several accounts, BAD girls in co-ed schools were surveilled and verbally attacked by teachers more than BAD boys, belying their intersectional experiences of racism and sexism (Crenshaw, 1989; 1990). Moreover, the disproportional harassment and harsh treatment of BAD girls overall is indicative of misogynoir (Bailey, 2010; 2016). On the whole, BAD youth and alumni/ae benefitted most from: (a) relationships with faculty and staff members who served as mentors, (b) teachers who demonstrated interest in their cultures and taught a multicultural curricula, (c) time and space to socialize with BAD peers, and (d) participation in sports and arts programming.
Findings for RQ3 are that BAD participants experienced the lasting negative impacts of low self-esteem and a lack of self-awareness. More useful impacts include academic preparation for college and preparation for the microaggressions that accompany attending a predominantly White institution. These findings align with scholarship that reported how students who attended elite secondary schools are prepared for the academic rigors and social discourses of highly selective colleges and universities (Coleman & Hoffer, 1987; Jack, 2016; 2019; Kane, 1992; Khan, 2011). Findings for RQ4 are that public narratives of BAD alumni corroborate thematic codes constructed from interview narratives. One novel finding of the public narratives is the great extent to which participant experiences in private school preparatory programs like Prep for Prep can either mirror or buffer anti-Blackness experienced in NYCIS.
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Watch a video of a recent talk about my dissertation research, “Intersectional Counternarratives of Black Students and Belonging in Private Schools.” Invited keynote given virtually at the Race, Inequality, Language, and Education Speaker Series, Stanford Graduate School of Education. Video of talk available here. Lecture slides available here. Google drive resource folder available here.