Young African-American girl looking sad

African-American girls address identity, sexual harassment in schools

The College of Education & Human Development created the Dean’s Doctoral Research Fellowship to recognize newly-admitted doctoral students for their outstanding scholarly accomplishments and academic potential. As fellows, they receive funding that supports their research projects and helps them become scholars who make significant contributions to their field of study. 

This issue of Research & Innovation highlights a selection of their research. 

by Claire Miller

Researchers in the college’s Center for the Study of School Safety, School Climate and Classroom Management developed a research-based, interactive curriculum promoting critical thinking and decision-making skills to help keep adolescent girls safe and enhance their wellbeing.

Headshot of Johari Harris-Ward

Johari Harris-Ward

Doctoral fellow Johari Harris-Ward and her colleagues used this curriculum, called Project P.R.E.V.E.N.T (Promoting Respect, Enhancing Value, Establishing New Trust), in a recent study exploring how African-American girls’ experiences with popular media affects their sense of identity and issues concerning sexual harassment emerged from the data.

Participants shared experiences of verbal and/or physical sexual harassment by male students at their school and said this behavior often happened during the school day when teachers were less likely to be present, like class transitions or recess. The participations also felt teachers and administrators weren’t providing the support they sought when relaying incidents. Similar to past findings of sexual harassment in schools, teachers and administrators expected African-American girls to police their sexuality rather than communicating appropriate behaviors to male students.

Given these findings, subsequent interventions shifted focus on helping both male and female adolescents create and maintain healthy relationships while including teachers and administrators in the conversation. “It’s important that interventions focus on and provide support for both Black males and females, considering they are both vulnerable to messaging that implies sexual harassment is OK,” she said.

Moving forward, she’s working with her colleagues to develop a curriculum that is reflective and responsive to students’ needs and inclusive of school and community stakeholders.