Exploring Race and Opportunity within Community-based Educational Spaces
Bianca Baldridge

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Wisconsin-Madison

Primary Discipline

While schools are consistently included in discourse about race and educational opportunity, community-based educational spaces (e.g., afterschool programs, community-based youth organizations) and the pedagogical strategies they employ are overlooked in the ways they both challenge and reproduce racial disparities and inequities. This study explores how racial disparities discourse manifests in a context where liberal and progressive ideas are overtly expressed even as persistent racial and structural inequities pervade these ideas. As such, this research examines the processes community-based educational spaces cultivate to assist Black youth in making meaning of racial disparities and educational opportunity.Under neoliberal models of reform, measuring academic achievement is often reduced to test scores; as such, the social, political, and cultural education within community-based spaces are compromised (Baldridge, 2014). This study explores how youth workers resist this pressure and strive to build spaces where students can process racial disparities and its connection to education. While educational research has explored the racial meanings young people make within their school contexts and how it shapes their academic performance and engagement with the school environment (Carter, 2005; Lewis & Diamond, 2015; Pollock, 2005), few studies highlight how racial narratives about Black youth inform the practices of youth workers within community-based spaces or how social issues stemming from schools and neighborhoods are mitigated within community-based spaces.This qualitative study will employ a critical ethnographic approach and will consist of multiple data sources, including historical mapping and narrative collection of the ways racial discourse has shifted over time via media archives and interviews with longtime community members regarding how Black youth are and have been engaged around issues of race in community-based educational spaces. Additionally, the organizational and pedagogical practices of specific community-based after school spaces will be studied. Youth response and sense making of these practices will be captured.This study attempts to fill gaps in research on community-based educational spaces and explore the role they have in shaping, resisting, or reproducing racial narratives about Black youth. This project seeks to affirm youth voice and the knowledge and expertise of youth workers (1) to help legitimize the work of community-based educators who are often intimately aware of complex struggles facing youth in settings where racial disparities are immense even as progressive discourse thrives, and (2) to recognize the critical role that community-based educational spaces can play in fostering racial identity and critical consciousness of young people, and their educational experiences and outcomes. While community-based programs are generally regarded as important places to provide youth with a wide range of opportunities for academic and social development, they are still on the periphery of educational discourse. Greater scholarly attention must be given to the pedagogical processes employed by community-based educational spaces in order to move them from the periphery to the center of educational discourse and pedagogical innovation. Implications from this work can complement school based research on race and educational opportunity and encourage meaningful school-community partnerships for optimal educational experiences and outcomes for Black youth. Scholarship produced from this research will help foreground the pedagogical possibilities within community-based educational spaces.
About Bianca Baldridge
Bianca J. Baldridge is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Dr. Baldridge earned her PhD from Columbia University’s Teachers College. Her scholarship examines the political and social context of community-based educational spaces and afterschool education. Dr. Baldridge’s work critically examines the confluence of race, class, and gender, and its impact on neoliberal economic and educational reforms that shape community-based educational spaces engaging youth of color in marginalized communities. Further, Dr. Baldridge’s scholarship explores the organizational and pedagogical practices employed by youth workers/community-based educators and their connection to school spaces amidst neoliberal education restructuring. As an ethnographer, she closely examines the experiences of youth and educators within community-based educational spaces. Her work has been published in the American Educational Research Journal, Race, the journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Education, and Contemporary Sociology. Dr. Baldridge’s experiences as a community-based educator within community-based youth programs continues to inform her research in profound ways.

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