MSU Presents "Slavery To Freedom" Lecture Series With Speaker Dr. Monique Morris

Feb 4, 2021

Today (Feb. 4), the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine presents the first of three speakers as part of the 2021 Dr. William G. Anderson Lecture Series, “Slavery To Freedom.”  

WKAR’s Kevin Lavery talks with Dr. Marita Gilbert, the associate dean of diversity and campus inclusion at the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. 

You can register for the 2021 Dr. William G. Anderson Slavery To Freedom Speaker Series here.

Interview Highlights

On The Criminalization of Girls of Color In Schools

Dr. Morris outlines this broader landscape that starts when girls are very, very young in school.  The ways in which they're treated, the ways in which they’re perceived, the ways in which their bodies are understood and criminalized, and their behaviors are pathologized. If we see these tendencies that show up early on that push black and brown girls out of education pathways and into more criminalized atmospheres, what results then is that we are reifying systemic barriers that have significant implications on their life chances, and also remove black and brown girls from the ability to make significant contributions to our community and to our society.

On The Perception That Black Girls Are “Too Much”

If we think about the perceptions of black girls as “too:” too big, too loud, too sassy, too self possessed…altogether too much. What happens is we create these ways of responding to behaviors without first of all even understanding the context from which they are derived. So, if we think about black girls, black women, black femmes, historically from our time in the Americas; early slave women.  The kinds of physical threats that (they) endured… you couldn't really often physically fight back, although sometimes that happened. And then as we move through history, we tried to teach young girls that perhaps the only weapon they would have was their voice. So scream in moments of threat, make noise, cause a distraction, draw attention to yourself.

 

So then, to say to young girls, especially young girls who are adolescent and in school, if someone mistreats you, or physically touches you in a way that causes harm, make sure that you use your voice. Or, when you’re in a perceived situation of threat, use your voice first as your first tool, and then that becomes criminalized. The message is that you aren't even worthy of defending yourself…and should you do, that the repercussions will be grave, they will be swift. Oftentimes, what we're starting to see is that they're often violent. And so I think Dr. Morris does a great job and really putting a face on what that looks like.

Interview Transcript

Dr. Marita Gilbert:

This summer, we really were thinking about how could we capture what was happening in this country.  How could we use our platform to really address that, and even have an opportunity use Black History Month as an opportunity to come from that, from a theoretical and practical standpoint? How could we push these critical conversations in a way that would be useful, certainly for us on campus, but also and perhaps equally as importantly, in the community?

Kevin Lavery: 

The first speaker is Dr. Monique Morris.  She’s probably best known for her book, which was then turned into a documentary, entitled “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls In Schools.”  She highlights some very alarming statistics in this book about how often black girls face more severe punishment than their white classmates  This even includes intervention from law enforcement sometimes.  Do we understand what’s driving that trend, and what’s being done in Michigan or elsewhere to find the root of the problem and stop that?

Gilbert: 

Dr. Morris outlines this broader landscape that starts when girls are very, very young in school.  The ways in which they're treated, the ways in which they’re perceived, the ways in which their bodies are understood and criminalized, and their behaviors are pathologized. If we see these tendencies that show up early on, that push black and brown girls out of education pathways and into more criminalized atmospheres, what results then is that we are reifying systemic barriers that have significant implications on their life chances, and also remove black and brown girls from the ability to make significant contributions to our community and to our society.

Lavery: 

The impression I get also from Dr. Morris' work is that black girls are overlooked and marginalized in a way that even black boys are not.  We often don't think about the “school to prison pipeline” in the context of young women, but they definitely face their own set of dangers and hazards as well.

Gilbert: 

One of the things that I observed and perhaps in some ways, as someone who's a “Generation X” (member).  In the 90’s, in particular, there was this clarion call that we really had to pay attention to what was happening to black boys, and there was great attention and great focus devoted to addressing that. I'm not saying that was a bad thing. But what I will say is that if you completely ignore 50% of the population, what we're left with is a different kind of disparity. I think that part of what was missed, again, is some of the thinking; some of the real reflection about how it is these behaviors occur, and what are the implications?

For example, if we think about the perceptions of black girls as “too:” too big, too loud, too sassy, too self possessed, right? Altogether too much. What happens is we create these ways of responding to behaviors without first of all even understanding the context from which they are derived. So, if we think about black girls, black women, black femmes, historically from our time in the Americas; early slave women.  The kinds of physical threats that (they) endured… you couldn't really often physically fight back, although sometimes that happened. And then as we move through history, we tried to teach young girls that perhaps the only weapon they would have was their voice. So scream in moments of threat, make noise, cause a distraction, draw attention to yourself.

So then, to say to young girls, especially young girls who are adolescent and in school, if someone mistreats you, or physically touches you in a way that causes harm, make sure that you use your voice. Or, when you’re in a perceived situation of threat, use your voice first as your first tool, and then that becomes criminalized. Right? The message is that you aren't even worthy of defending yourself…and should you do, that the repercussions will be grave, they will be swift. Oftentimes, what we're starting to see is that they're often violent. And so I think Dr. Morris does a great job and really putting a face on what that looks like.

Lavery: 

With this pandemic, we’ve had millions of kids who’ve been forced to learn from home.  Do black girls even feel they have a reason to show up to class even from home, given the circumstances they face sometimes?

Gilbert: 

That’s a big question.  I think whether it's in the virtual space or the physical classroom, girls of color want to be seen. They want to be appreciated by those folks who are educating them or who are responsible in an administrative capacity for what's happening around their education. This idea, this question of safety is a big one because if the home environment perhaps is not safe and school was the escape, now the pandemic has created circumstances that cause everyone to be confined for long periods of time, and the conditions of home become visible.

Lavery: 

Dr. Morris' lecture begins today (Thu, Feb. 4) at 5 p.m.  How can people attend?

Gilbert:

So, this year our series is virtual.  We can direct people to come to the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine website, there is a link there where they can register. We will be accepting registration up until the point we start our series. More importantly, we want you to come but we want you to be engaged. So, if there are questions that you have, we want you to feel free to put those in the chat.

We also encourage you to follow up with us and with Dr. Morris and continue to be in dialogue with us so that we really can work to improve and enhance what's happening in our MSU community and in the Greater Lansing area.