Date of Award

December 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education and Organizational Leadership Development

Committee Member

Hans Klar

Committee Member

Frederick Buskey

Committee Member

Daniella Hall

Committee Member

Mindy Spearman


In this dissertation, I report the findings of an ethnographic study I conducted in a large suburban high school in the Upstate of South Carolina. The purpose of this study was to understand the factors that affect the formation of the bridging social capital of Latinx immigrant high school students and to provide recommendations to school leaders. For this study, I interviewed eleven Latinx immigrant high school students in Spanish about their experiences as they integrated into their new academic environment. In addition to the interviews, I conducted observations in several common areas of the school and collected stylized written statements, known as testimonios, from students that were willing to write them.

Five major factors that affected the development of bridging social capital of Latinx immigrant students were found. First, the ability or inability to speak Spanish determined the speed with which relationships between established and Latinx immigrant students were built. Second, racial self-segregation and the racialization of conflicts hampered the building of bridging social capital between different student groups. Third, an individual Latinx immigrant student’s propensity to adopt deliberately American habits or be adoptable by American students or teachers affected the bridging social capital formation between these groups. Fourth, the shedding or pliability of Latinx identity facilitated bridging social capital development. And fifth, the existence of in-group conflict between Mexican Latinx and non-Mexican Latinx immigrant students hampered bonding social capital development, which in turn stymied bridging social capital development.

The findings of this dissertation are important because the arrival of Latinx people to the American Southeast is a relatively new phenomenon, happening mostly within the last 15 years. Furthermore, a newly reenergized and vocal anti-immigrant movement in the wake of the 2016 American presidential campaign has likely changed the relationships between traditional American power structures and immigrant populations. Because high trust and social capital are essential for the basic operations of a school, educational leaders can use these findings to facilitate Latinx immigrant students’ success by developing initiatives and programs that mitigate factors beyond their control.



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