Dissertation Defense - Structural Inequality in School Discipline: Regulating Intolerance in Public Schools

Mon, 05/15/2017


Date:  May 15, 2017

Time:  3:00pm - 5:00pm

Location:  Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway (SBSG), Room 5105

Featuring:  Julie Gerlinger, Candidate for Ph.D. in Criminology, Law & Society




Title:  Structural Inequality in School Discipline: Regulating Intolerance in Public Schools

Committee:  John Hipp (Chair), Thurston Domina, Valerie Jenness, Charis Kubrin, and Sara Wakefield


This dissertation addresses several important gaps in the literature on school discipline to gain a better understanding of how the school contributes to disciplinary outcomes. I focus on school rather than individual differences (suggesting contextual importance) and apply neighborhood and conflict theories to school discipline (shedding light on race and class differences). Using southern California as a research site, this project analyzes the contextual effects of exclusionary discipline in three complementary studies: 1) an examination of school and neighborhood influences on exclusionary discipline, 2) a macro-level analysis of the school-to-prison pipeline, and 3) a study that examines whether exclusionary discipline improves school safety. In each study, I incorporate “nontraditional” schools (i.e., continuation, alternative, opportunity, etc.) – an often-ignored subgroup of students – to better understand how these same processes unfold in schools with at-risk, highly stigmatized students.


More specifically, the first study assesses how the school and the surrounding neighborhood influence exclusion rates and create a more punitive environment for students. I frame this chapter using racial threat and social reproduction to better understand how school and neighborhood contexts combine to punish poor and minority students and maintain social and economic inequalities. The second study tests the school-to-prison pipeline hypothesis that an unintended consequence of current school safety and discipline practices is increased crime. Guided by social disorganization and routine activity theories, I analyze how suspensions and expulsions impact neighborhood crime. Finally, the third study examines whether or not the use of punitive discipline actually improves school safety by reducing crime. I use longitudinal school discipline and crime data for the largest school district in California to address this question.