Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Health Promotion, Education and Behavior

First Advisor

Christine E. Blake

Abstract

Schools are meant to provide an equal opportunity for achievement to all students. The reality is that school policies and practices, which govern not only child education but also child health, parenting practices, and other social issues, are based on ideologies of the dominant culture creating an environment the perpetuates current social hierarchies. By doing so, this not only limits minority populations’ access to the opportunities associated with education but also access to health, as education and health are strongly and positively linked.

This study used qualitative methods including ethnography to explore how racism was perpetuated through the dominant discourses of obesity and parent involvement in the context of a school developed through public/private partnership that aims to serve a low-income, mainly Black, community. Data for this study was collected over an eighteen-month period and included, participant observation, field notes, and in-depth interviews. Critical discourse analysis was used to address specific aim 1. Verbatim interview transcripts were analyzed using a combination of a priori and emergent coding techniques. Results showed that participants viewed obesity as a product of an individual’s lifestyle choices and perceived obesity negated health. Participants used dominant obesity discourse to normalize their own lifestyle choices and distance themselves from ‘deviant others’. Despite some misgivings, participants continued to engage dominant obesity discourse.

To address specific aim 2, field notes and verbatim interview transcripts were analyzed using an open coding technique. Results showed that school policies and practices were undergirded by ideologies of colorblind racism that maintained current social hierarchies by perpetuating White privilege and racial minority disadvantage. The colorblind approach to parental involvement created barriers to the creation of authentic relationships at SEPS and, therefore, the development of a positive, mutual, and respectful relationship between families and the school.

This study illuminated the issues of social inequality that were perpetuated in this school environment. Further, the findings of this study showed that racist ideologies were created and maintained within the school environment despite individual intentions to address disparities. This study provides evidence of the opportunity for school personnel to recognize the ways that racialized policies and practices can impact the school environment and take meaningful steps towards change.

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