In the wake of Columbine: How youth make meaning of violence, schooling and the media

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Assata Zerai


Columbine, Youth, Meaning, Violence, Schooling, Media, Colorado

Subject Categories

Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance | Social Psychology


This is a multi-method qualitative study of how youth understand Columbine, school and youth violence, and school safety in relationship to perspectives that are presented in the mainstream media and by school officials. This work centers kids' discourses and pays close attention to the struggles that youth at two public high schools identify and prioritize, expanding work within the interpretive and social constructionist perspectives. It further challenges the homogeneity of youth by analyzing the talk of teens as intersecting with larger spheres of race, class, gender and sexuality, utilizing intersectional theory to analyze youth and violence.

This dissertation problematizes the nation's focus on Columbine by examining the multiple and diverse perceptions that youth have of school violence. Race and social class are central to how they negotiate the significance, or lack of significance, of Columbine in their daily lives. Additionally, this project expands the focus on weapons-related school violence by analyzing how youth experience daily forms of hidden violence, from harassment to bullying to discrimination, that are both pervasive and damaging to their lives. These forms of violence often get played out in verbal and physical fights. For boys, fights often are about maintaining a sense of power over others or sustaining a rigid form of masculinity that is rooted in aggression, violence and heterosexuality. Although girls often utilize fights as a way to transgress traditional feminine roles and maintain power, they are also often about self-defense, gaining respect, or maintaining a sense of popularity at the school.

Although school policies and mechanisms of surveillance attempt to deal with such issues, consequences are inconsistent, particularly when schools lack stability and resources. Additionally, punitive forms of "getting rid of" kids to solve violence often works to sustain violence rather than prevent it. I argue that in order to create safe schools, the continuum of violence must be incorporated into school policies and curriculum, and relationships between kids, school officials, counselors and teachers must be given more priority than punitive consequences or additional mechanisms of surveillance, such as video cameras and metal detectors.


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