The Initiative on Gender Justice & Opportunity at Georgetown Law is leading the effort to perform extensive research and training to stop what’s been billed as “adultification bias.”
The initiative was recently awarded $800,000 from former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s foundation to help shoulder the cost of developing “training opportunities on adultification bias, the phenomenon in which adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers,” Georgetown University reported.
The researchers suggest adultification of black female children subjects them to harsher punishments from educators and law enforcement.
“These trainings will be designed for adults with power in public systems—including judges, doctors, and police—who have authority and influence over Black girls’ lives,” the private, D.C.-based institution stated in an April 14 news release.
Rebecca Epstein, executive director of the initiative, did not respond to recent requests from The College Fix seeking comment. Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality representatives also did not respond to requests for comment.
“We previously identified this form of bias as a challenge and validated it by talking to women and girls about their life experiences,” Epstein stated in the news release. “Now we’re turning to solutions, and how we stop this harm to Black girls.”
Epstein co-authored a 2017 study titled “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood,” which surveyed more than 300 American adults regarding their perception of adolescent innocence, maturity and sexual knowledge based on a child’s race.
The research found that at as young as five years old, “adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers,” especially in the age range of 5 to 14, which the researchers dubbed “adultification bias.”
“Ultimately, adultification is a form of dehumanization, robbing Black children of the very essence of what makes childhood distinct from all other developmental periods: innocence,” according to the study. “Adultification contributes to a false narrative that Black youths’ transgressions are intentional and malicious, instead of the result of immature decision-making—a key characteristic of childhood.”
The analysis found that black girls are three times more likely to be disciplined for subjective infractions of fighting, bullying or harassment and disruptive behavior as opposed to white girls who commit the same offenses.
Epstein is something of a pioneer when it comes to the concept of adultification bias. It is rooted within a disparate-impact model, which holds that anything that negatively affects black people more than white people is facially discriminatory.
In Epstein’s case, her six-plus years of research underpinning adultification bias is largely anecdotally based on lived experiences and surveys. It does not factor in whether black students are responsible for a higher percentage of policy violations than white students as a possible explanation for percentage-based discipline disparities.
In a 2019 follow-up qualitative study, “Listening to Black Women and Girls: Lived Experiences of Adultification Bias,” Epstein and researcher Jamilia Blake interviewed black females ranging from ages 12 to 60 from various towns and cities in the United States.
The 2019 analysis found that black girls routinely experience adultification bias, and adultification is linked to harsher treatment and higher standards for black girls in school.
“[T]here’s, like, this non-acceptance of being a child,” one of the individuals in the study’s 30 to 39 age group reportedly said. Another respondent in the 13 to 17 age-range stated: “It’s like, well, like I’m still a kid. Like I still mess up. But it just seem like you hit like a specific age like 13 years old, and, anytime you do anything wrong, it’s, ‘Oh, you know better.’ So you’re gonna get like the worst punishment possible.”
The report also found support for the notion that black girls are more hypersexualized and that adults have more sympathy for white female children over their black counterparts.
“If you see, like, a little white girl that’s crying, people will be more sympathetic than if you see a little black girl that’s crying,” one of the respondents said. “It’s just like, okay; like I feel bad for this little white person because her tears carry more value than [a] black girl’s”
Like the 2017 report, the 2019 study suggested solutions to limit adultification bias include training and educating those with jurisdiction over black female children and an improved cultural competency and gender responsiveness.
However, the concept of adultification bias does not have universal support.
Quin Hillyer, deputy commentary editor for the Washington Examiner, wrote in a May 19 piece that he questioned whether the trend “has been verified as a vast problem through rigorous, scientific assessments.”
“Well, said Epstein, she ‘validated it by talking to women and girls about their life experiences.’ It’s all part of the ‘gender justice framework,’ dontcha know,” he wrote.