Girls Behaving Badly? Race, Gender, and Subjective Evaluation in the Discipline of African American Girls

Edward W. Morris, Brea L. Perry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


School disciplinary processes are an important mechanism of inequality in education. Most prior research in this area focuses on the significantly higher rates of punishment among African American boys, but in this article, we turn our attention to the discipline of African American girls. Using advanced multilevel models and a longitudinal data set of detailed school discipline records, we analyze interactions between race and gender on office referrals. The results show troubling and significant disparities in the punishment of African American girls. Controlling for background variables, black girls are three times more likely than white girls to receive an office referral; this difference is substantially wider than the gap between black boys and white boys. Moreover, black girls receive disproportionate referrals for infractions such as disruptive behavior, dress code violations, disobedience, and aggressive behavior. We argue that these infractions are subjective and influenced by gendered interpretations. Using the framework of intersectionality, we propose that school discipline penalizes African American girls for behaviors perceived to transgress normative standards of femininity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-148
Number of pages22
JournalSociology of Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © American Sociological Association 2017.


  • African American girls
  • gender
  • intersectionality
  • race
  • school discipline

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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