Theses Doctoral

Racial Literacy in Predominantly White, Affluent, Suburban Public Middle School Teaching Spaces: A Case Study

Mateo-Toledo, Jenice

Racism, defined as the creation or maintenance of a racial hierarchy supported through institutional power, is a pervasive issue in the United States that affects educational institutions across the country in various ways, such as through unequal educational access, school funding, hiring practices, and school discipline. Rather than directly challenging and working toward combating injustices that emerge in institutions, most school leaders disregard race-based educational inequities by providing explanations for racist actions and patterns that occur. There is often a hesitancy to engage in discussions about race and racism in predominantly White spaces because it feels “uncomfortable” and can lead to conflict. This discomfort encourages colorblind ideology, resulting in a lack of dialogue that enables racial hierarchies to thrive. Thus, some members of society benefit from the system, while others are exploited.

In this qualitative case study, I explore how students of color who attend an affluent, predominantly White, suburban, public middle school experience a course designed to discuss issues of race and racism. Although anti-bias education is commonly thought to be beneficial for schools located in urban areas, this dominant narrative disregards the needs of predominantly White suburban school communities that have traditionally ignored issues of race and racism, yet due to shifts in immigration patterns, are becoming more diverse. This study explores the challenges students of color face when discussing issues of race and racism in predominantly White, suburban school settings. The culture of silence that permeates educational institutions maintains racial hierarchies and disadvantages students of color who are often “subjected to institutionalized conditions that contradict their interests and their humanity.” Information gleaned from this study may be used to improve upon existing racial literacy courses in predominantly White spaces to ensure that all students feel safe and included in the curriculum.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Curriculum and Teaching
Thesis Advisors
Price-Dennis, Detra
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
July 16, 2021