Date of Completion


Degree Type

Honors Thesis


Political Science (POLS)

First Advisor

Dr. Andrew Dilts


“Willful defiance” describes a type of student behavior that intentionally disrupts classroom order against a teacher’s direct commands. In 2013 the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education reduced the use of willful defiance suspensions as it was the disciplinary category with the largest racial disparities. Despite initial positive outcomes following the policy change, LA Unified still maintains a racial disparity in its expulsion rates and use of willful defiance. In this thesis, I investigate the remaining racialized outcomes through a structural analysis of behavioral discipline policies. Willful defiance policies represent a direct interaction between the structure of the classroom, student disruption, and teacher’s authority. Furthermore, this authority structure interacts in a heavily racialized classroom environment. This thesis closely analyzes 20 U.S. state education codes regarding defiance in the classroom with particular attention paid towards its structural implications. I ultimately conclude that the structure of authority in the classroom differentially selects students of color despite neutral intentions. This selection occurs because authority attempts to target disruption of the educational process which cannot neutrally occur in racialized environments. Rather, authority structurally and by nature targets the disruptive existences of non-white students within the classroom.