News Release

Creating safe spaces with and for Black girls

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Cornell University

ITHACA, N.Y. – In 2018, as a graduate student, Assistant Professor Misha Inniss-Thompson worked alongside four Black women and colleagues at Vanderbilt University to co-found the Black Girl Magic Crew, an afterschool program for Black adolescent girls aimed at supporting and celebrating their talents, identity development and wellness. As the community coalesced, Inniss-Thompson and her collaborators documented the program’s impacts.

They found that the program provided girls with something they often lacked in other spaces: psychological safety.

Now a study based on data from the group, published Feb. 4 in the Journal of Black Psychology, specifically describes how spaces created with and for Black girls can offer them psychological safety: by validating their experiences, emotions and self-definition.

“Given the violence and stereotypes that are commonplace for Black girls, it’s really important to think about what it looks like to engage in practices that are culturally affirming and that honor the multidimensional nature of Black girls’ experiences,” said Inniss-Thompson, assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study

In interviews with 16 girls who participated in the Black Girl Magic Crew, all from a single high school in the southeastern U.S., researchers observed that the girls repeatedly—and without prompting—described the group as “safe.” That guided the researchers to study how the ethos and curricular elements in the program had this effect.

The authors offered specific curricular activities that validated participants’ experiences and opinions and encouraged explorations of self. The activities include engaging the participants in the co-creation of community norms; inviting participants at each session to share a positive experience (a rose) and a negative one (a thorn); centering Black girls’ experiences by asking them to bring in samples of songs, shows, movies or social media posts that resonate with them; and discussing stereotypes of Black girls and how the participants would like to be understood and seen.

Inniss-Thompson hopes practitioners can use the Black Girl Magic Crew curriculum as a model and the impacts of the program as justification for creating these spaces – especially amid pushback on racially diverse books and historically accurate curricula across the U.S.

For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews.


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