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

Frances Vavrus, Kim Marie Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 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

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments. This paper was prepared at the National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement (CELA), Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), School of Education, University of Wisconsin–Madison. The Center is supported by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (Award R305A60005). Data come from the CELA project, “The Socialization of Diverse Learners in Subject Matter Discourse,” Jane Zuengler and Cecilia Ford, Principal Investigators. However, the views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of these institutions.


  • Discipline
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Suspension
  • Urban education


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