Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Dr. Victor Chen

Second Advisor

Dean Jim Hinterlong

Third Advisor

Dr. Tressie Cottom


Scholars for decades have studied the achievement gap and attempted to explain it in regards to race and class. Throughout the existing literature regarding the achievement gap between black and white students, however, there is a dearth of research exploring why the gap exists for upper-class black students; this population is largely ignored. This research seeks to explain why an achievement gap exists between white and black students who come from households of similar incomes. Ten students (five white and five black gradates) of a private, non-parochial school in Washington DC are interviewed about high school and post-high school experiences. Using cultural capital and labeling theory frameworks, this study follows the work of Billings (2011), Pattillo-McCoy (2000), Lacy (2007), and Khan (2011) in their focus on black students, cultural capital, and embodied privilege, and builds on that of Lensmire (2012), Dixon-Roman 2014, Orr (2003) Adams (2010) and Tyson et al. (2005). Results uncover the uniquely complex configuration of class and race. Latent issues as a result of race can arise, and the research illustrates how they affect the achievement ideology and attainment of both black and white students. This study’s findings suggest that two mechanisms shape the achievement gap: academic support and social interactions and interpretations, with the former rooted largely in class differences and the latter rooted in racial differences. This study aims to improve our understanding of the distinct role race and class play in influencing educational and professional outcomes from upper-class backgrounds.


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