School Suspension and Adolescent Friendship Networks: A Longitudinal Social Network Analysis of Labeling Theory

Open Access
Jacobsen, Wade Clinton
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 13, 2017
Committee Members:
  • D Wayne Osgood, Dissertation Advisor
  • D Wayne Osgood, Committee Chair
  • Michelle Lynn Frisco, Committee Member
  • Derek Allen Kreager, Committee Member
  • Scott David Gest, Outside Member
  • David M Ramey, Committee Member
  • school suspension
  • labeling theory
  • punishment
  • inequality
  • secondary deviance
  • substance use
  • delinquency
  • peers
  • social networks
  • adolescence
Suspension from school is a relatively common experience for students in the United States, particularly among racial minorities and disadvantaged groups. Prior research examining the effectiveness of suspension in correcting or deterring delinquent behavior finds it associated with increased delinquency and criminal justice involvement, rather than improved behavior. Much of this work relies on labeling theory to explain these effects. Labeling theory suggests an official sanction such as suspension may increase rather than decrease subsequent delinquency if it leads to social exclusion, label internalization, and greater involvement with delinquent peers. These mechanisms are central to labeling theory, but with few exceptions, have rarely been measured in prior research. In this dissertation, I test labeling theory in a sample of sixth to ninth grade students and their same-grade peers. I use a longitudinal peer network approach to measure the mechanisms implied in labeling theory. Results suggest suspension is associated with a loss of friends in school. It is also associated with greater involvement with peers who use substances. Withdrawal from conforming peers and changes in attitudes toward substance use partially explain this association. Finally, I find that students who get suspended are at increased risk of using substances but are at no greater risk of engaging in other delinquent behaviors. Increased involvement with substance-using peers following suspension partially explains this association. Given that racial minority and other disadvantaged youth are more likely to experience suspension, my findings suggest that school policies relying heavily on this form of punishment may be fostering inequality and the perpetuation of adolescent substance use.