Don Sawyer

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Sari K. Biklen


Black Males, Critical Race Theory, Hip-Hop, Respect, Urban Schools, Youth Resistance

Subject Categories

Education | Sociology


This dissertation is an ethnographic study of the experiences of Black eighth grade males attending an urban middle school dismantled in the midst of mandated educational reform in a Central New York school district. Some of the students were the victims of repeated school closures and were left behind because of a lack of space in other schools as a result of efforts to disperse students across the district. These students are part of a group that attends classes in a small section of their former building that has been converted into a high school. To gain insight into the lived experiences of these students, the following questions guided this project: How do students analyze and articulate the experiences of being Black males in an urban school and neighborhood as racialized, gendered, and classed individuals? How do students understand, cooperate with, and resist school structure? This project centers the often-silenced voices of Black male youth as experts with the ability to understand and articulate their lived experiences. My analysis revealed student frustrations related to the school setting and relationships with teachers and administrators. Students voiced concerns about respect, relationships with teachers, and the imbalance of voice and power in school. Students articulated feeling more like objects to be controlled than learners to be nurtured. In spite of the oppressive measures put in place to control their behavior, students continued to actively resist efforts to marginalize their existence in the school building. I argue that these students and others should be read as knowledgeable about their own lives and not seen through the lens of "deficits" they bring to school. I also argue that in light of social promotion and lowered expectations for academic excellence, for some students, schools become prison preparatory institutions (PPI) and structure experiences for students to be "pushed out" and primed to enter the criminal justice system. This work is about finding, recognizing, and engaging students' knowledge and experiences in sociological research and practice.


Open Access