Date Approved


Date Posted


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Teacher Education

Committee Member

Valerie Polakow, PhD, Chair

Committee Member

Wendy Burke, PhD

Committee Member

Linda Williams, PhD

Committee Member

Eboni Zamani-Gallaher, PhD


This qualitative dissertation study explored how exclusion and marginalization in schools impact the lives of low-income African-American students. The study focused on the perspectives of youth attending both middle and high schools in Michigan, and investigated how students who have experienced forms of exclusion in their K–12 schooling viewed their educational experiences. In addition to the voices of youth, the perspectives of parents, social workers, and coaches were presented and analyzed. Key themes that emerged from the study were lack of care, lack of belonging, disrupted education, debilitating discipline, the need for language diversity, and persistence and resilience. These themes were analyzed in relation to their intersectionality with language, culture, ethnicity, race, class, and gender.

The conceptual frameworks shaping the study included Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, Critical Race Theory, Goffman’s (1963) seminal work on stigmatization, stereotyping and exclusion, and a Rights-Based Framework. A phenomenological approach was utilized to explore the emic meanings of students’ experiences, in combination with a critical ethnographic framework to analyze the findings in relation to broader macro-social issues of race, class, gender, language, and educational achievement.

The findings from the study consistently revealed the negative impact of exclusionary policies and practices on students’ experiences in terms of social well-being and academic achievement, and the pervasive deficit assumptions that harmed their potential and possibilities for success. However, the findings also revealed students’ persistence and resilience in overcoming barriers despite their circumstances. Implications highlighted students’ strengths and attributes by challenging the dominant deficit-based educational discourse and advocating for the inclusion of the missing voices of students. Recommendations targeted educational policy and practice, social work interventions and supports, as well as alternatives to zero tolerance disciplinary policies. Ultimately, the study aimed to inform and shape both educational policies and practices by promoting culturally relevant pedagogical practices that engaged African-American students in their school lives.