Classroom Blog

Are you teaching or reading Between Good and Ghetto in class? If so, please share your experiences, questions or suggestions.

Classroom Exercises

If you have recommendations for exercises, readings, or media you have used with Between Good and Ghetto let me know and I’ll post the information here.

Classroom Exercise: What Do You Do To Stay Safe?

Each time I teach “Criminal Justice and the Community” I teach a class entitled “The Criminalization of Violence Against Women.” I assign readings from Susan Brownmiller, Angela Davis, Beth Richie, Patricia Hill Collins and selections from Between Good and Ghetto (see entry 1.14.10 below for text and video references).

I begin the class with a simple question: what do you do to stay safe?

I ask each student in the class to respond to this question aloud. If a student asks for clarification I simply repeat the question. My TA and I write down their responses on the board. At first, students seem a bit reluctant to answer the question. The nerves subside as each student provides an answer:

I carry mace
I hold my keys in between my fingers
I pretend to talk on my cell phone if I’m walking at night
I carry a rape whistle

Others report putting on a tough front, avoiding eye contact, avoiding certain areas or learning self-defense.

After the last student answers the question we take a moment to silently review the responses on the board (this year about 100 students were enrolled in the class). I then ask students to identify patterns: What types of violence do men appear most afraid of? What types of violence do women appear to be most afraid of?

We look for other patterns hidden in their responses: Who is most concerned with staying safe in their home or in their neighborhood? Who can avoid violence by avoiding certain people or places? Who can’t?

I then ask students to talk about how this makes them feel . This is where we hear the anger, for example, from a woman who would like to go down to the hot tub but can’t because a group of guys are already there. They may be good guys, but she doesn’t feel safe being the only woman in the hot tub. Or the woman who wanted to travel solo around the world but didn’t think it would be safe to do so. We also hear the frustration at having to worry about staying safe in a neighborhood where violence may erupt unpredictably–where wearing the wrong colors or a staring at the wrong person can end in violence.

The discussion of these patterns helps us to think about how our social world is structured by inequalities–race, gender, class–and the consequences of this inequality for our everyday lives.

At the end of the exercise I explain that we all just participated in a “consciousness raising” session much like the sessions that formed the foundation of the second-wave of the Women’s Movement. “You’re all feminists now!” I announce as I bring the exercise to a close. The students usually laugh at this, which is a welcome response in a moment when so many students remain reluctant to identify as feminist (“I’m not a feminist, but…”).

This exercise is a useful and always powerful way to highlight how the threat of sexual violence continues to constrain women’s mobility decades after the second-wave of the Women’s Movement. I also use it now to illustrate how many of us rely on “situated survival strategies” (BGG, pp. 52-55) to stay safe in our daily lives, much like the girls and young women I write about in Between Good and Ghetto .

This year I ended the class with a presentation on rape and sexual assault led by the director of our Women’s Center. I explained that these resources are one of the tangible victories of the Women’s Movement. Responses from the students indicated that they appreciated ending the class with this workshop. If I were to adapt this for a class that meets twice a week I would do the exercise during the first class meeting and then have the workshop on the second class meeting of the week.


What Should School Officials Do When Girls Fight?

In the comments below, a coordinator for an at-risk program in Richmond, VA asks for alternatives to punitive responses to girls’ fights. In general, it has become much more difficult to deal with these issues in zero-tolerance environments that mandate a one-size-fits-all response to adolescent behavior. I thought my response would be useful to others, so I’m including it here as a post:

This report, Suspended Education , published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, shows the negative consequences of embracing zero-tolerance policies for children.

Regarding the :

There are no data showing that out-of-school suspension or expulsion reduce rates of disruption or improve school climate; indeed, the available data suggest that, if anything, disciplinary removal appears to have negative effects on student outcomes and the learning climate (American Psychological Association, 2008).

In fact, many researchers believe that suspension may actually reinforce problematic behavior and lead to school drop-out, which we know has negative outcomes for adolescents as they transition to adulthood.

The report also provides a list of citations for studies that have identified alternatives to zero-tolerance:

…extensive research and policy studies on school violence and school discipline over the last decade have identified a host of effective alternatives to zero tolerance that are more likely to ensure safe and orderly schools while keeping students in school” (Dwyer, Osher, & Warger, 1998; Gagnon & Leone, 2001; Gottfredson, 1997; Greenberg et al., 2003; Mihalic, Irwin, Elliott, Fagan, & Hansen, 2001; Elliott, Hatot, Sirovatka, & Potter, 2001; Thornton, Craft, Dahlberg, Lynch, & Baer, 2000; Tolan & Guerra, and Kendall, 1995; Zins, Weissberg, Wang & Walberg, 2004).

Between Good and Ghetto can help teachers and school administrators understand the social meaning of fights for girls, and the consequences of not fighting for many girls. Understanding where girls are coming from is a critical first step in helping them to resolve conflicts without the use of violence or aggression.

Fighting for Girls (a book I co-edited with Meda Chesney-Lind) can also be helpful. I would recommend Chapter 7 “Reducing Aggressive Behavior in Adolescent Girls by Attending to School Climate” by Sibylle Artz and Diana Nicholson. The chapter shows what adults can do to help reduce aggressive behavior in girls.

Finally, I would recommend reading the material on the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change website, especially those materials on .

Let us know how it goes. I hope others follow your lead to adopt strategies and practices that will improve the lives of the girls in your school.


The Other Side of the Crisis: The Experience of African American Girls

In Between Good and Ghetto I argue that the girls who are evaluated by others as “ghetto chicks” are most likely to receive formal and informal sanctions for their behavior. Institutionally, they are more likely to be suspended and are more likely to enter the juvenile justice system (a point highlighted in Fighting for Girls , a recently published book I co-edited with Meda Chesney-Lind). As I say in the conclusion to BGG, this is the other side of the crisis. A recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center highlights this point. Since the introduction of zero-tolerance policies in schools, black girls have experienced the greatest rate of increase in suspensions (5.3%). 18% of middle-school black girls are suspended , compared to 4% of white girls. Punitive policies in schools don’t just affect boys: it’s time to pay more attention to the other side of the crisis.

See the following handout with some statistics that document the other side of the crisis:

Deviance Survey

Last week, I taught a one day freshman seminar on life after incarceration (a topic of my next book). The seminar began at 11:00 AM and ended with a 6:30 PM tour of the local jail. The jail is about five minutes from campus, which is often surprising to my students. I start the class with an exercise I was first introduced to as a student. I ask each person to respond to the following:

List five things that you have done in your life that could be (or was) defined as deviant or criminal.

A flurry of questions usually follows, but I simply repeat the question until students turn to the page and start writing. I then collect and read their (anonymous) responses out loud. A sampling of responses include:

Theft, consumption of marijuana, talking on the phone while driving (illegal in California), got in a fight, drugs, drinking underage, cutting school, speeding, public urination, public disturbance/assault, stealing, breaking curfew…

Why do I use this exercise? It helps students to realize that in courses on crime and justice we’re not always talking about “us” and “them.” For many of us, I told the seminar, the only difference between us and the people we will see in the city jail at the end of the day is that they got caught. The exercise is a great ice breaker and student responses revealed that it was one of the main things they remembered from the seminar.

Radio Clip on Consequences of War on Drugs

In the conclusion to Between Good and Ghetto I suggest that ending the War on Drugs would improve the lives of inner-city boys and girls. In this clip from North Gate Radio, President Obama’s Drug Czar makes the case for why it’s important to end the war and I discuss the consequences of current sentencing policy for family networks and reentry (a topic I examine in my current research).

What I’m Reading:

(BMCS) provides an ethnographic account of the lives of two young black men—Ray and Jermaine—as they work to become “known” as great ball players, and the implications of their doing so for their life chances. The book is based on field research Professor Brooks conducted in Philadelphia, as a coach, mentor and friend, over a four-year period. It is a clearly written, accessible and compelling sociological story about social networks, opportunity structures, and the setbacks and successes that characterize adolescence, perhaps especially urban adolescence. BMCS is a very good book.

I write briefly about the changing role of “old heads” in chapter one of Between Good and Ghetto , “The Social World of Inner-City Girls” (see pages 24-25). Brooks provides a much expanded account of the range of old head experiences and their interactions with young black men. The book also provides a rare glimpse into the emotional worlds of men. As I write in a recent review of Black Men Can’t Shoot (prepared for an Author Meets Critic Session at the 2010 Pacific Sociological Association meeting in Oakland, CA): “At its heart, the book represents to me a social world in which men care for each other, learn to value each other and even express genuine love and affection for one another. In this way, BMCS is an original contribution to urban sociology and even a bit radical.”

Read my entire review here: .

Are girls more violent?

This NY Times op-ed, “The Myth of Mean Girls,” written by Michael Males and Meda Chesney-Lind, explains away the “mean girl” and “violent girl” hype. The point: arrests of girls for violent offenses have increased over time, but this does not mean that girls’ behavior has changed dramatically. This is a great piece to use in classes to make this point.

Meda and I make this point too in our forthcoming book, Fighting for Girls: New Perspectives on Gender and Violence .

What does “ghetto” mean?

In the wake of UC-San Diego’s “Compton Cookout,” this by Heather Tirado Gilligan for UC-Berkeley’s North Gate Radio offers a candid look at what the word means now.

I shared the following exercise with colleagues during a list-serve exchange on why parties like the “ Compton Cookout ” are likely to take place on predominantly white campuses and what these parties mean. The forwarded email encouraged us to support a “teach in” on the issue, and I encouraged colleagues to consider integrating “teach in” moments in our classes. Here is what I wrote:

As it turns out, “ghetto parties” are popular at UCSB too and I would encourage each of us to think about having “teach in” moments in our classes, when it’s relevant to the topic.

I’ve had such discussions in my spring and fall courses (Sociology of the
Urban Underclass and Criminal Justice and the Community). One exercise I use it to ask students what “ghetto” means. At first, they are quite reluctant to offer any response, even though they or their peers use the term often. I then tell them that I am going to turn around to face the chalkboard and repeat the question. That way, they can offer responses without my knowing who said what. Once I do that the responses come pretty quickly.

After filling up the board, the racialized and classed meanings of the word are obvious. That is, it becomes quite clear what “ghetto” really means.
Once we have it out there we can make connections to how these underlying meanings are similar/different to more explicit racism/racist language used to justify inequality in the past as well as the gendered dimensions of these meanings i.e. “thug” vs. “ghetto chick”.

The exercise also allows us to talk about how contemporary patterns of inequality encourage things like “ghetto parties.” For example, I ask students to consider how a greater level of racial/class diversity at the university might discourage such parties. That is, if more people who actually grew up in “the ghetto” were on campus might such parties might be less popular?

The exercise also reminds me (each time) that a significant proportion of our students have grown up in homogenous suburban neighborhoods, some in gated communities, and their primary engagement with Black people is/has been through popular culture. “The ghetto” and, in turn, the poor, Black experience, is sold as entertainment—we are teaching the first generation of suburbanites who have “grown up” on commercial hip-hop—and these students who “host” ghetto parties reflect that to some degree.

Overall, I think the exercise works. It is not an easy discussion to facilitate but I do think it is illuminating for students and helps to reinforce basic sociological concepts re: the relationship between the structural and the personal.

I’d be interested in hearing from others who try similar exercises in their classes.


Films and Assigned Readings for Between Good and Ghetto

Two colleagues who plan to teach wrote to ask for recommendations for films or readings that could be taught alongside the book. I recommended two films that I teach regularly in my courses: Girl Trouble and NO! The Rape Documentary.

Girl Trouble follows three girls as they move through the juvenile justice system in San Francisco. The respondents for my book were drawn from a city-hospital based violence intervention project, not the juvenile system, however, their experiences overlap with the experiences of the girls in the film in some ways i.e. managing expectations of femininity in a context that is shaped by the code of the street and how involvement with the criminal justice system influences how young women manage violent relationships. Here’s a link to the New Day Films website for Girl Trouble .

NO! The Rape Documentary by Aishah Simmons offers a compelling look at sexual violence in the Black community. It features some of the leading Black gender scholars, including women who are rape survivors. The video also comes with a curriculum and a DVD that includes 15-20 minute segments. One is on incarcerated women and sexual violence and another is on what men can do to stop rape.

I usually assign the following readings along with these films: 1) Brownmiller, Susan “Rape is a Political Crime Against Women” in In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution (1999) 2) Davis, Angela “Rape, Racism, and the Myth of the Black Rapist in Women, Race and Class (1983) 3) Richie, Beth “A Black Feminist Reflection on the Anti-Violence Movement” in Signs Vol. 25, No. 4, Feminisms at a Millennium (Summer, 2000), 1133-137 and 4) Hill-Collins, Patricia, “Assume the Position: The Changing Contours of Sexual Violence” in Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender and the New Racism (2004)

Arranging the readings in this order allows me to talk about the real victories won by the second wave of the Women’s Movement as well as the race and class critiques that existed from the beginning. Hill-Collins’ chapter is great for connecting rape as a form of social control for women with prisons as a form of social control for men.



2 responses to “ Classroom Blog

  1. Fascinating information! I am a co-ordinator of an At-Risk Program in the suburbs of the city of Richmond, Virginia – Midlothian High School Success Program. Our school is predominantly white and of an upward socio-economic level. Currently, what violence that we have in our school is between African-American females, and I have been dealing with a severe situation for the past few days. While I have asked our principle to order some copies of your book; I would like to know of any resources that can help us understand and support these girls. Our county (Chesterfield County Public Schools) has a strongly enforced zero toleranc policy – also, one of my colleagues stated yesterday that much of the latest research states that a zero tolerance policy is the only answer! I do not feel that that is a solution only a further disenfranchisement – what do you think? We really want to be progressive and find solutions not punishments!

  2. Very good write-up. I definitely appreciate this
    website. Thanks!

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