As a mixed-race, poor, queer, non-binary person, the odds that I would land where I have – not in jail, but in an advanced degree program (my third post-graduate degree) – were slim to none. I attended over 30 schools by the time I was 14 years old and never advanced past 10th grade. Like many young people, my school push out was only one consequence of many factors in my life, including a lack of support at home, traumatic experiences, abuse, and a childhood spent in poverty. Homelessness, health issues, violence, and interactions with law enforcement were all part of my lived experience before I was old enough to vote.
Education in the United States is to be free and compulsory - a promise of equal opportunity and access, and per research by the Pew Charitable Trust, education provides a doorway to upward mobility (Haskins, 2009). However, my lived experience, as well as my social work practice, have shown me that education is often inaccessible to young people from marginalized backgrounds. Witnessing young people being pushed out and excluded from school has always brought me immense concern. As a forensic social worker, advocating for clients to enter the “least restrictive environment” post-arrest was not enough. I knew that more could be done before a young person was disenfranchised from their school and that entry into the criminal justice system could be prevented entirely.
My goal as an academic is to do research that is not only useful to the community, but that transforms systems (such as the educational system) into inclusive and loving environments. I want my work to be useful not only to those most impacted but to those who make decisions about how that impact happens.
Haskins, R. (2009). Promoting economic mobility by increasing postsecondary education. The Urban Institute. https://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2009/pew_emp_promoting_upward_mobility.pdf