This dissertation research project was an ethnographic research study of a school-based gang and violence intervention program from Central California. My interests for
conducting a qualitative dissertation was the emergence of social connections, which could only be understood by conducting research beyond the traditional (quantitative)
measurements. While quantitative research methods serve a purpose, the personification of a particular individual, or group of people, through the issuance of a number still would not offer a holistic understanding of the participating Chicana/o youth of the intervention program (Irizarry & Nieto, 2010). Michael Agar further posits that using the usual social research methodological framework of “theory/ hypothesis/ measurement/ sampling, design/ significance level” does not depict much of what ethnographers do. Moreover, the goal of an ethnographer is to assist in the identification of emergent patterns of actions and perceptions. In order to assist the patterns to become recognized an ethnographer must observe and report on all of the material noted and / or considered as markers for these patterns (Agar, 2004). It was my belief that by having documented the youths' interactions, and subsequently their perspectives, of their relationships, those pertaining to the program, the outreach
coordinator, their families, home communities, etc., I was able to present a clearer description for the youth of the GC GVIP.
Furthermore by building off of my master’s research project where survey data showed a “strong attachment” to the youths parents, as well as with Richard, the intervention
coordinator, I was able to gain a better understanding for “why” the attachment was strong; what about these people did the youth value? Given the limitations of surveys there was no option for immediate follow-up questions to help better assess the “how,” or “why” the
youth participants showed “strong attachment.” I felt that interviewing the youth to inquire about specifics would allow me to get a more holistic understanding of their lives. C. Wright Mills (1959) states in his theory of the sociological imagination that, “neither the lives of an individual, nor the history of a society, may be understood without understanding both” (p. 3). That is to say, there was much to be understood from considering the connection/s that exists between peoples lived experiences and society at large. I believe this was true of the youth I got to know over the last half decade while researching the Golden Coast GVIP. Furthermore, a 2002 publication of the National Research Council’s, Scientific Research in Education, points out that ethnographic research is “particularly important for describing information about the group or setting is nonexistent or scant” within educational settings (Shavelson & Towne, 2002, p. 105).
As such, this study aimed to provide the youth an opportunity to have a voice and express their accounts, concerns and use their suggestions regarding their experiences as participants in the GVIP. That is the very reason why conducting an ethnographic research study was most appropriate for collecting research with marginalized youth, including the youth involved with the GVIP. In this case, in order to establish an effective lens into the world of the youth participants I used interviews, as well as observations of the youth’s experiences (every day interactions) to contextualize their shared and observed experiences in accordance to their individual social landscape.
One of the major challenges to understand as an ethnographer was that I had to be available, and willing, to go into these youths spaces: schools, communities, hang out spots, etc. Given that there is a vast range of activities that as an ethnographer I had to partake in, and become familiar with, some of these activities and events were a bit distracting to the original purpose of the study; in this case, observIn order to better understand the youths
perspectives on their experiences I also participated in their program’s activities, to the extent that I was able to establish trust and rapport with the youth, without creating any legal or moral conflict. By observing the youth outside of their respective schools and, instead, in their neighborhoods (as residents and consumers), in their community centers (i.e. YMCA, community centers, churches, etc.), I was also able to observe the youth in a more holistic context outside of their school settings, surrounded by their family and/or close friends outside of school. perspectives on their experiences I also participated in their program’s activities, to the extent that I was able to establish trust and rapport with the youth, without creating any legal or moral conflict. By observing the youth outside of their respective schools and, instead, in their neighborhoods (as residents and consumers), in their community centers (i.e. YMCA, community centers, churches, etc.), I was also able to observe the youth in a more holistic context outside of their school settings, surrounded by their family and/or close friends outside of school.
It was once I gained entrée into the youths inner circles that they allowed me to collect my field notes and interviews of the youth, in their respective environments. Collecting these data supplied me with a more holistic understanding of why the youth felt as they do about their schools, teachers, administrators, law enforcement, their communities, and even how they felt about their participation in the GVIP. The youth narratives also allowed me to take a deeper look into "how" the youth came to make some of their decisions, prior to their involvement with the GC GVIP, as well as afterwards. The comparison assisted me in determining whether or not the GC GVIP was effective in its efforts to deter the youth form further "at-risk" behavior. The data also helped me provide evidence that most of the boys were somehow socially acquainted, even related in some instances. However, as discussed in chapter 6, Pedagogy of the Suppressed, these connections, which had been perceived as
negative, actually demonstrated a unique balance of youth perspectives and backgrounds. I used these unique set of perspectives as examples of the youths social capital and argue that this social capital acted more as a tool than a deficiency marker. As such, the youth's were able to demonstrate they were more "at-promise" than "at-risk" as initially classified through the school district and its officials.
Similar to other researchers that highlight the important role that “context and meaning research” play in researching classroom and school communities, I too, believe this to be true, particularly for under-represented and under-resourced urban populations, like that of the youth participants from this study.
Prior research focused on specific individuals' characteristics that impacted broad social behavior, especially academic achievement. However, I believe that these studies were focused on defining “academic achievement” through a middle- and upper-class lens. For this particularly study I focused on the youth from the GVIP and their “academic
achievement as an expression of social self-consciousness”. I asked the youth if the GVIP coordinator provided them with any helpful advice to allow them to access their “social self- consciousness”. Youth also responded to questions about their initial reactions to the GVIP, as well their current thoughts on the program. It was difficult to ascertain, with absolute assurance, the total accuracy of the statements provided by the youth interviewed, however, as an ethnographer I had to trust in the rapport that I created with them to secure their most accurate statements. Additionally, I also included triangulation methods to assist me with verifying / confirming youth accounts of events.
Of the hundreds of youths (over 200) that the GC GVIP has served directly I personally interviewed (focus groups and one-on-one) 34 youths on a rotating schedule over 5 years for
this research study. Of these 34 youths I have had the most access to, and extended
cooperation from 8 youths (Cairo, Ruben, Mike, Nicholas, Julio, Vince, David and Chuy). Several of the aforementioned youth were also involved in an incident that resulted, as previously mentioned, in their high school going on “lock-down” with the youth reporting abuse and harassment as the main method of investigation and interrogation of the police that held them in custody. Chapter 4, Smoking Guns, describes that specific event more in depth.
Below I have included a list of questions that were used during the initial evaluation of the GC GVIP in 2009-10. The questions below were used more as a guide than a direct line- up. What I mean by that is that sometimes by asking one of the initial questions the
participating youth could also answer (partially or in whole) another question from this same list. For instance, when I asked the youth, “Who do you live with?” they might reply, “I live with both my parents, a brother, sister, etc.”. The youth has just answered the follow-up question, “do you live with both of your parents?” However, I should note that it was important to include the follow-up question on this list as some of the youth were not specific when answering the “who do you live with?” question. By following up with the direct question on parents it allowed for a smoother transition to the following questions related to their parents/family/relatives/caretakers:
There were 8 youths I considered a leaders within the program (Mike, Nicholas, Chuy, David, Vince, Cairo, Ruben and Julio), as such I felt that getting to know them would help me to get to know others in their respective groups. The other four youths were also instrumental at the beginning of our evaluation, and after our evaluation period ended, in
providing me longitudinal context on the social landscape, from the youths participants’ perspective. The youth will be introduced in greater detail in the following chapters.
I also used my interviews, observations and field notes that I had collected over the past half decade, specifically from these 8 youths, in order to record the accounts of their
experiences as participants of the intervention program. By utilizing the youth perspectives, through interviews as well as day-to-day casual conversation, I also used Tara Yosso’s concept of counter-storytelling. Dr. Tara Yosso suggests that “counter-storytelling” is the most effective tool for gathering said data, particularly as a means to construct stories (perspectives) that emerge from ethnographic studies. According to Dr. Yosso, majoritarian narratives oftentimes are full of coded racialized language lending towards the recreation of stereotypes as well as misrepresentations of poverty and criminality being more associated to Black and Brown communities and their schools. Yosso's research also proposed that majoritarian narratives are often used as a means to devalue and / or misrepresent people whom may present data negating majoritarian portrayals/depictions (Yosso, 2001).
Therefore, by utilizing my interviews as means of employing counter-storytelling, it served the purpose of allowing the youth participants of the GC GVIP, a space, and vessel, to provide their personal accounts as well as a method to help promote the production of my research.
Furthermore, I believe that counter-storytelling is yet another tool to utilize in the
construct of critical ethnographies. Prior research with the GC GVIP noted that participants’ experiences were still not as accurately, or easily represented and validated through the collection and analysis of quantitative data. These researchers posited that although quantitative research methods serve a great purpose, the personification of a particular individual, or group of people, through the issuance of a number still does not offer a
holistic understanding of participating C hicana/o youth (Handbook of Latinos in Education; Irizarry & Nieto, 2010).
The following were the interview protocol’s that were used to obtain information from the youth participants and the coordinator of the intervention program. The first protocol was used during the first year; the second was used in the second round of interviews, at the end of the third year of the research study. The last interview protocol was then used at the end of the fifth year, in the final round of interviews. Not all questions were asked in exact order, to every student rather, many of these questions would begin to be answered, or were fully addressed while students answered the other interview questions. Other times, some questions did not apply to all the students. For instance, when interviewing Richard, I did not ask him questions geared for students, and vice versa.
Interview Protocol #1
Questions to youth about parents/family/relatives/caretakers: 1. Who do you live with at home?
2. Do you live with both of your parents? 3. Where were your parents born?
4. Have you ever been to your parent’s place of birth? a. If so, what did you think?
b. If not, how come?
5. What do your parents do for work?
6. Could you try to describe your relationship with your parents? 7. Tell me what is it like when you get home on a typical day:
a. Who is home to greet you when you arrive from school? b. Who do you talk to?
8. Do you speak to your parents about any of your issues or problems? a. If not, then who do you speak to when you have a problem? Why them?
10. What do your parents say, or do, when you get in trouble at school?
11. In what ways do you think your parents understand you and in what ways do they not?
12. In what ways do you think that you are similar to your parents? 13. In what ways do you think you’re different?
Questions to youth about their peers:
14. Do you have many friends to trust?
15. What is it like to have friends that you trust?
16. Is there a difference between what you do with your friends for fun while you’re at school as opposed to when you are hanging out outside of school?
17. What types of things do you do with your friends when you hang out together?
18. How long would you say you have known most of your friends? 19. Are any of your friends under parole or probation supervision?
a. Are you?
b. If so, for what, if I may know of course. 20. Have you ever been pressured to do anything illegal?
a. If so, what have your friends influenced to do? b. What did you think of that experience?
c. Did anybody catch you in the act?
i. If so, what happened once you were caught?
d. Did you ever commit the same act again? If so, why?
21. Do you think you will remain close with your friends after graduating high school?
a. Why or why not? Questions to youth about school:
22. Tell me about friends and trust at school?
23. How do you deal with students at school who disrespect you? 24. What are your teachers like at school?
25. What do teachers do when you need support? 26. What don’t teachers do when you need support? 27. Describe what a typical day at school is like?
28. What is like when you walk into class?
29. What do you think you can get out of school? 30. How is school connected to your future?
31. What benefits are there for staying in/doing well in school? 32. What do you want to do when you grow up?
33. What do you learn about your culture in school? Questions to youth about Richard and the GC GVIP
34. Did you know anybody in your class before you were enrolled in the GC GVIP?
35. Do you think that Richard’s class has assisted you with how you interact with your friends?
36. Does Richard help you with your school problems? If so, how?
37. Does Richard help you with any other issues outside of school-related ones? If so, how?
38. In addition to what you have shared that Richard already does for you, what could you suggest that Richard do to help you with your problems?
Questions to youth about community:
39. How do you like living in your community?
40. What’s it like living in your neighborhood? Give me an example of a typical day for you.
41. Do you feel your community faces any problems? a. If so, can you give me any examples? b. What do you think can be done about them? 42. Have all of these problems always existed?
43. Do you know of anyone that is actively engaged with organizing in his or her community?
a. How do you feel about them and what they do?
b. Would you ever participate in any type of community activism? What types?
Below is a set of questions that were developed for the initial interview with the
guide for making sure we discussed specific themes related to Richard and the youth participants of the Golden Coast Gang and Violence Intervention Program.
Questions to Richard about the GC GVIP:
1. How did you come across this job? What interested you to apply for it? 2. Describe what you do as part of your program with Richard?
3. Has the program changed since it began 5 years ago? What are some examples of those changes?
4. What kind of preparation, or life experience, did you have prior to working as the coordinator for the GC GVIP?
5. What have you struggled with the most in the GC GVIP? The least? 6. What do you feel is the most beneficial part/s of your program to most of
7. How did you go about creating your curriculum for the GC GVIP? Was there a previous intervention program, or educational programs, from which you model yours after?
8. What are some areas you would like to improve on for the GC GVIP? 9. Do you feel you have a strong relationship with the community? Any
10. Do you think that the youth are progressing from when you first began working with them?
Taking into consideration the previous answers, current context, as well as any immediate pressing issues, I later adapted the above set of questions for future interviews with the youths. Below are the adapted questions.
Questions to youth about parents/family/relatives/caretakers: 1. Do you still live with both of your parents?
2. Are your parents still working in the same place as last time we interviewed? 3. Could you try to describe any change in your relationship with your parents
since we last interviewed?
4. Tell me, has anything changed for you, as far as when you get home on a typical day:
i. Is there anyone home to greet you when you arrive from school? ii. Who do you talk to when you get home?
5. Do you feel you are you able to speak to your parents about any of your issues or problems?
i. If not, then whom do you speak to when you have a problem? Why them? 6. Have your parents changed how they react to you when you share with them
7. Have your parents changed how they react to you when you get in trouble at school?
8. Do you think your parents attempt to understand you, or reach to you, and in what ways do they not?
9. In what ways do you think that you are similar to your parents now? 10. In what ways do you think you’re different from your parents?