"I didn't do nothin'": The discursive construction of school suspension

Frances Vavrus, Kim Marie Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


This article examines the issue of school suspension by looking at the sociocultural factors that influence a teacher's decision to remove a student from the classroom. The authors use ethnographic and discourse analytic approaches to study how disciplinary moments are constructed by teachers and students in an urban high school in the Midwest. The analysis of classroom observations, videotaped lessons, and interviews from a longitudinal study at this multiethnic high school shows that suspensions frequently occur in the absence of any physical violence or blatant verbal abuse. Rather, suspensions are often preceded by a complex series of nonviolent events when one disruptive act among many is singled out for action by the teacher. This study has implications for current debates about zero-tolerance policies that disproportionately affect students of color for their misbehavior in school. Our analysis suggests that removing a student from class is a highly contextualized decision based on subtle race and gender relations that cannot be adequately addressed in school discipline policies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-111
Number of pages25
JournalUrban Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Discipline
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Suspension
  • Urban education

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