Date of Award

Fall 2021

Project Type

Thesis

Program or Major

Sociology

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts

First Advisor

Cliff CB Brown

Second Advisor

Rebecca RB Glauber

Third Advisor

David DF Finkelhor

Abstract

Over the last thirty years, the student population of schools in the United States have become increasingly more racially diverse, while teachers have remained predominantly white. During this same period, school disciplinary policies and practices have become increasingly punitive. Literature has shown that this shift disproportionately targets students of color. Behavior such as defiance and disruption are now offenses that warrant the suspension or expulsion of a student. These behaviors are subjective in nature. In using their discretion to identify defiance and disruption, teachers may administer discipline in a racially unequal manner. While prior research has documented the emergence of a racial discipline gap, scholars have neglected to consider how discipline for subjective offenses is affected by school level factors such as the composition of student and staff race. Moreover, considering the racial variation in student and school staff populations, it is important to contextualize the use of subjective disciplinary practices in a critical whiteness and white cultural capital theoretical framework. Using data on K-12 California public schools and quantitative statistical research methods, the current study attempts to fill this research void by exploring the effect that the proportion of white school staff has on the use of defiance-related suspensions for students, particularly Black and Latinx students. The findings indicate that the higher proportion of white staff, the higher the rate of defiance-related suspensions, especially for Black and Latinx students. Additionally, Black students consistently have higher rates of defiance-related suspensions than both their white and Latinx peers. These results have important implications for understanding the school-to-prison pipeline, the role of whiteness and white cultural capital in schools, and the effects that subjective discipline practices have on the racial discipline gap.

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