Dissertation Oral Defense

Date & Time: Dec 13th 11:00 am - 1:00 pm
Location: 457 Berkey Hall

Abstract: Access to stable and quality institutions can determine the trajectory of young people’s lives. Previous literature notes that persistent structural inequalities create disparities in access to and quality of public institutions among youth in low-income urban communities. Municipal governments are increasingly coordinating public resources to provide programs that address the disparities in these communities. While these efforts create opportunities for urban youth, young people’s perspectives are often cast as silent recipients of these services. The present dissertation focuses on youth who attend a revitalized municipal recreation center in Atlanta, Georgia, to understand the ways youth in low-income urban communities utilize public institutions to navigate a social environment shaped by persistent structural inequality. Utilizing an ethnographic approach, over 300 hours of participant observations and eighteen (18) semi-structured interviews with youth ranging in age from 13- to 20-years old were conducted over the course of thirteen months to explore young people’s perceptions of and experiences in the recreation center within the context of their social environment. A grounded analysis of the qualitative data revealed that youth participants viewed the recreation center as a valuable institution for young people in the community citing its capacity to intervene in young people’s lives by keeping them “off the streets” and “out of trouble.” Yet, their perspectives illuminate the ways interactions within the facility can operate as barriers to access, an experience that further marginalizes sub-groups of urban youth who already exist at the periphery of city life.