Tia Dolet is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Curriculum and Instruction – Urban Education program. This summer, she was the recipient of National Crittenton’s 2019 BOLD Change Agent Award, recognizing her efforts supporting educational justice and equity for girls of color in the Charlotte and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas.
Could you describe your research focus and why it is important to you?
My research interests are centered on Black girls, school environments and issues of school safety—particularly looking at areas of under-protection and criminalization. I am looking at the societal structures that lead to disproportionalities in school discipline and in-school arrest rates for Black girls. Most importantly, I am interested in exploring culturally responsive solutions-based policies and practices that interrupt gendered racial trends in discipline and the school-to-confinement pipeline.
As a Black woman who was consistently labeled by her K-12 teachers as a “loud Black girl” for always speaking her mind and standing up for herself, I was very familiar that these traits were considered undesirable in a classroom setting. However, conditioned by what was my norm; I never stopped to reevaluate my public school experiences until I sat in on a presentation by Dr. Monique Morris (author of Pushout) in 2014 and heard her pose the question: “Why are the characteristics that make Black women successful in the workforce being punished in schools?” That statement inspired me to dive deeper into this research area and work towards solutions for equitable schools.
What factors led you to want to work in this area?
In 2012, I became an educator for an in-school positive youth development program for teen girls in Washington, D.C. It did not take long for me to notice that my students had very similar school experiences when it came to school discipline. Many of them were being suspended for minor, subjective offenses. More alarmingly, a significant number of students expressed to me, either directly or indirectly, how this impacted their relationship with school: “These teachers don’t care about us. They always tell us to get out!”
This ultimately impacted their overall relationship to education and formalized academic spaces, resulting in feeling like school wasn’t “for them”. It broke my heart to see so many young women who were so full of potential reject the idea of school, and ultimately furthering their education, because their school—a space that was supposed to uplift them—often criminalized them and pushed them out of their classrooms.
What has surprised you most as you have progressed in your research?
Thus far, what has surprised me most is that researchers have been documenting racialized gendered disparities in school discipline for decades, yet these patterns still exist. My research has shifted to be more intentional in exploring solutions. We know the causes for this disparity and that it has been occurring for years. Now what are we going to do to fix it?
What difference could focused efforts to address equity in school discipline make on the overall school environment, and specifically for the groups you study?
What could truly make a difference in racial disparities in school discipline is including culturally responsive classroom management coursework in teacher preparation programs and providing on-going professional development for teachers on the topic. One of the main reasons why students of color are suspended, expelled and subjected to in-school referrals to law enforcement is due to cultural mismatches between teachers and students and teachers’ unpreparedness to manage diverse classrooms. Research supports that providing this training has led to lowered rates of disproportionality in school discipline rates and overall lower school suspension and expulsion rates for the entire school.
What are your long-term goals for your career?
After graduating from UNC Charlotte, I hope to become an educational researcher grounded in social justice and solutions-based research, working towards equitable public school environments for all students. I am optimistic about the future. Although national trends may look grim, there are some amazing things happening in numerous school districts across the country. I am surrounded by committed educators, administrators, parents, policy makers and community partners. I honestly believe that with intentional collaboration, we can make a difference.