Stereotypes, Dehumanization, and Disciplining Disability: Psychological Mechanisms that Fuel the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Date of Degree
Cathy Spatz Widom
School-to-Prison Pipeline, Educational Disability, Stereotype Content Model, Dehumanization
The overrepresentation of students with educational disabilities in the school-to-prison pipeline is a crisis of civil rights and social justice in need of a comprehensive explanatory theoretical model. Research has convincingly demonstrated the greater likelihood of students with disabilities to be disciplined and the link from these exclusionary school discipline practices to eventual justice system involvement. Yet, why students with disabilities should receive these punishments at greater rates than non-labeled peers, when procedural safeguards and tenets of reduced culpability would predict otherwise, has never been investigated. The Stereotype Content Model (SCM) and the related Behaviors from Interpersonal Affect (BIAS) Map have demonstrated a robust pattern of emotions and behaviors that follow from the content of a group’s stereotype. That is, groups stereotyped as warm and competent elicit admiration and helping behaviors, whereas groups stereotyped as cold and incompetent elicit contempt and harmful responses (i.e., punish, remove from class, ignore, or demean). Thus, how students with disabilities are stereotyped may help explain the harsher disciplinary responses they receive and thus their greater likelihood to enter the school-to-prison pipeline. Research suggests another possible explanation for different disciplinary responses is that students with disabilities are more likely to be dehumanized than are non-labeled students, thereby altering their moral status as deserving of protection, and justifying the punishment decisions that schools make.
Through two studies, this research explored and tested the role of stereotype content and dehumanization in school discipline decisions. Study one first mapped the positions of students with various educational disabilities on the dimensions of warmth and competence and established that the affective and behavioral responses predicted by the SCM do indeed largely apply to these groups in a school context. It also detected strong links among stereotype content, dehumanization, and tendencies to harm. Study two tested the causal impacts of a disability label and student race on teachers’ disciplinary recommendations for a hypothetical student who violated the school’s discipline code. Results from Study 2 failed to detect any effects of race or disability on discipline decisions, but suggest that access to restorative justice programs may effectively close the discipline gap, particularly for students most vulnerable to exclusionary discipline (i.e., students with Emotional Disturbance). Although the predicted effects were not observed for individual students, an overall theoretical relationship among the affect elicited from teachers, dehumanization, and discipline was uncovered, showing that, across both studies, key emotions (i.e., fear, anger, contempt) seem to drive dehumanizing attitudes, which in turn were found to mediate punitive actions directed towards students. Interpersonal and structural interventions are discussed as potential disruptors to the pipeline.
Ponce de Leon-LeBec, Alexandra, "Stereotypes, Dehumanization, and Disciplining Disability: Psychological Mechanisms that Fuel the School-to-Prison Pipeline" (2022). CUNY Academic Works.