SPP 102 – Unequal City
Dr. Carla Shedd is an Associate Professor of Urban Education and Sociology at CUNY Graduate Center. She received her PhD from Northwestern University and her A.B. in Economics and African American Studies from Smith College. Her research and teaching interests focus on: crime and criminal justice; race and ethnicity; law and society; social inequality; and urban sociology.
Dr. Shedd is passionate about illuminating the plight of urban adolescents who each day confront the paradoxes of:
a school system that can work to educate or criminalize them;
a police department that can work to protect or harass them;
and a justice system that can work to rehabilitate or damage them further.
Dr. Shedd’s first book, Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Injustice, focuses on the city of Chicago. Centrally, the book examines the two institutions that prominently shape the lives of urban youth: the public school system and the criminal justice system. It also highlights the racially stratified social and physical terrain youth traverse between home and school. Shedd’s exploration of the “carceral continuum” is extended in her new research capturing and analyzing the myriad legal and extra-legal attributes that impact juvenile justice processing and dispositions in New York City. Dr. Shedd has been published in various academic journals and edited book volumes. She has also received numerous competitive fellowships and grants from the Russell Sage Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the National Consortium on Violence Research, Columbia University, and Northwestern University.
For those who may not be familiar with Unequal City, this was our National Association of School Psychologists’ National Book read. Kudos to Dr. Shedd for writing this book and to our association for seeking to impact issues of race and equity. To give a really brief summary, in Unequal City, Dr. Shedd examines the ways in which Chicago’s most vulnerable residents navigate their neighborhoods, life opportunities, and encounters with the law, through illuminating how schools have both reinforced or ameliorated the social inequalities that shape the worlds of students.
Q: What led to your interest in sociology in general, and more specifically in the areas of justice and educational systems?
A: Always interested in crime, justice. She joined a project where questions were asked about police and questions of injustice.
Q: Intersectionality. Can you explain that?
A: Overlap of race and gender. Until recently, you had to choose which was more important, race or gender. But really, it’s a combination.
Q: There are vast differences within the school district. There are some better funded schools compared to others. Can you talk about that?
A: Students in more diverse schools seemed to have higher feelings of injustice. Dr. Shedd fought to reveal school names since students moved on in the time of her study. Harper, in particular, had a large swing from 2500 students to being slated for closure.
Q: What can you tell us about the idea of “safe passage”?
A: Adults were placed on the route to school in “dangerous neighborhoods”. Responsible adults were posted on corners where there are concerns. This doesn’t really address the underlying issues. Additionally, students were told to call police if they didn’t feel safe. When asked, students said they wouldn’t call police if they were concerned. We need to address the underlying problems rather than just covering over the problem.
Q: Trust in institutions is different between generations. Can you talk about that?
A: Justice is the lack of a gap between your perceptions of justice and the reality. Students want to trust in institutions but they have difficulty when these things are in conflict. Choice is an area of difference between higher and lower SES.
Q: Can you tell us more about what the “Carceral continuum” is and perhaps how that may or may not differ from the “School to Prison Pipeline” concept?
A: There actually isn’t a lot of empirical data to support the School to Prison Pipeline concept. The carceral continuum has been a little better researched, including by Dr. Shedd. She studied the defendants to find the patterns in their experiences. There are certain neighborhoods where judges say they don’t want to send people back to their neighborhoods because they will get in trouble again.
Q: Inequalities between people of color and COVID-19.
A: New York is supposed to be a melting pot but there are big discrepancies between people of color and white people. There are some people who are trying to place individual blame on people of color rather than looking at historic oppression and structural problems. We should provide supports rather than be punitive. Also, black women tend to be essential workers and are thereby at higher risk.
NYC is threatening to use the police against people who are not applying social distancing practices appropriately. Why is everything punitive all the time?
Q: What kind of data collection would be useful to compare when students have been home versus when they come back to school?
A: Direct questions to children. What was helpful? What will you need moving forward? Also, we need to shore up the essential services that are necessary to provide supports rather than be punitive.
Do things not just because we can but because they’re actually helpful.
Q: What is social justice?
A: The alignment with expectations and experiences.
Q: How does systemic racism impact learning dynamics?
A: Not just the content matters, but also the people and ways information is presented. There have been some changes in classrooms in critically analyzing the packaged curriculum. It’s important for us to examine our biases and to understand the differences between cultures. It’s also important to look at both individual differences as well as systemic differences.
What are the opportunities for building up individuals rather than punitive measures?