Date of Award

Summer 8-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology/Criminal Justice


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Committee Director

Ruth Triplett

Committee Member

Allison Chappell

Committee Member

Nishaun Battle

Committee Member

Randy Myers


Historically in the United States, African Americans have faced much adversity in the fight towards educational equality. Beginning with the complete denial of education during slavery, the struggle to attain an education continued following the Civil War, throughout Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow. Their formal education remained segregated from white students and was often severely underfunded. Ultimately, Plessy v. Ferguson’s 1896 “separate but equal” decision was challenged and the Supreme Court justices unanimously voted that racial segregation of children in public-schools was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Although major advances have been seen over time, African American youth continue to face discrimination and mistreatment within this public institution, particularly by way of school discipline. African American youth are disproportionately suspended and expelled, and there has been an increase in suspension rates for black girls. Currently, African American girls are five times more likely than white girls to report being suspended or expelled and are usually disciplined for defiance, inappropriate dress, and physical fighting. Due to this spike in suspension rates, it is important to gain insight from black girls to further understand how they perceive their school experiences within an institution that has historically excluded them. For the purposes of this study, a qualitative approach was utilized in the form of one-on-one, in-depth interviews with 20 middle-class African American girls ages 14 to 18 in a rural public-school district. This research seeks to understand how the girls perceive and understand the fairness in school disciplinary policies, reasons regarding why black girls are punished, better understand their relationships with faculty/staff and other girls in the school, and provide guidance on how both parties could assist in fostering healthy relationships in the school setting. Additionally, this work will help to understand how middle-class African American girls navigate an institution that exposes them to the subtleties of racism and currently criminalizes them, and those within other social classes, in schools across the country for their blackness.