An examination of the school ecology: making meaning of African American students' experiences of discrimination and fairness

Thompson, Aisha R., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Gregory, Anne, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Cornell, Dewey, Cu-Human Svcs, University of Virginia
Fan, Xitao, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Williams, Joanna Lee, Cu-Leadshp Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines African American students' school experience across multiple ecologies (individual, classroom, and schools). The first manuscript investigates the relationship between African American students' experience of racial discrimination and their self-reported engagement in classes during the first two years of high school. The study also examined whether students' individual characteristics (racial identification and academic identification) and contextual factors (i.e., feeling support after racial incidents) buffered the negative effects of discrimination. The findings supported previous literature, which documents the risk associated with perceived discrimination. Students who reported perceived discrimination in their first year of high school were less engaged in their classroom during their second year in high school.

The second manuscript focuses on the classroom context and the intricate relationship between students and teachers. The study examined individual student perceptions of unfair treatment in each of their core classes and how those teachers perceived each student and responded to their behavior. Finding showed that student perceptions of unfair treatment were linked to negative outcomes. When a student perceived unfairness in a particular class, that teacher was more likely to report that the student was defiant, less cooperative and gave them more disciplinary referrals.

The third manuscript focused on school suspension rates and students perceptions of their school environment. In light of the well-documented pattern of disproportionate punishment for African American students, this study investigated whether school climate factors as perceived by Black and White students were related to their groups' less favorable views of their school environment, reporting lower levels of teacher support and less rule fairness than White students. Moreover, schools that were perceived to have fair rules tended to have lower school suspension rates for both racial groups. Taken together, the findings from the three manuscripts sheds light on risk and protective factors related to the educational experience of, African American students. While the risks of perceived unfairness and disproportionate punishment are well documented throughout the research, collectively these studies suggest there are pockets of protection in each dimension of the students' educational ecology.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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