Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis (Master's)

Department or Program

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

First Advisor

Eric Ramsay

Second Advisor

Janice McCabe

Third Advisor

Donald Pease


School Culture: Identifying the Barriers to Belonging at Boarding Schools and Shifting the Culture is a theoretical application of sociological concepts to boarding school social spaces. The social environment in schools is a venue where students are subjected to endless influences that play a major role in shaping their social realities. Though much debate in education focuses on the curriculum in public school settings, there is far less attention given to small boarding school communities and even less attention on the culture of belonging, or the obstacles to belonging that exist within it. As American society grows more diverse, economically and racially, these boarding schools are moving toward an existential crisis. They must shift the culture to promote a broader sense of belonging to respond to a more diverse world or disappear.

This study looks at the social environment through the theories of Pierre Bourdieu, whose sociological works provide a foundation for investigating and understanding the sources of social power. His theories are tested against studies conducted in predominantly White schools. First, the study looks to research in predominantly White suburban public schools where sociologists have investigated the integration of students of color through bussing programs and charter schools. Next, Bourdieu’s theory is applied to studies completed at colleges and universities regarding the sense of belonging for marginalized groups. Finally, the theories are explored in private boarding schools through ethnographic studies and the author’s experiences as a boarding school teacher. This study concludes that belonging is a vital pillar of boarding school life and that schools must refocus their efforts to prioritize awareness around one’s background in order to promote activism that will shift the culture of boarding schools toward a sense of belonging for all of their students.