Date of Award

Summer July 2014

Access Restriction


Degree Name

Doctorate in Education



School or College

School of Education

First Advisor

Antonia Darder

Second Advisor

Ani Shabazian

Third Advisor

Refugio Rodriguez


The term “at risk” is a label that is used to describe students who encompass a host of prominent socially and politically constructed titles that are intended to simplify student understanding and awareness and allow for clear reporting. The purpose of this study was to demythologize the concept of “at risk” by creating the conditions for student voice and critical dialogue to emerge, through the use of narrative inquiry. This research hoped to provide an outlet for young people to find and use their own voices, while finding their own place within their lived histories. The research also aimed to raise awareness of the reality of the contemporary U.S. educational system: we often create policies and programs without considering the perspectives of the young people whom these services are designed to serve. Through critical narrative inquiry, six former student’s engaged in unstructured interviews and a focus group. Through analysis of the data set, five themes emerged and include 1) relationships with bicultural adults who understand, 2) instrumentalizing pedagogy, 3) the impact of money-driven policy, 4) the awareness of limitations of opportunities, and 5) the overall theme of the transparency of hegemony. This research hoped to problematize the label in an effort to move toward an emancipatory understanding of how we speak about young people and make sense of the circumstances these young people must navigate through their education and their world.