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This paper investigates interactional processes by which students from non-dominant groups develop academic identities within schools that privilege the dominant group. It draws on an ethnographic study of an urban magnet school, focusing on a discourse analysis of conversations between three eighth grade girls. Findings include that students supported their academic identities through strategically establishing symbolic boundaries between academic content and the standards by which they were judged. Overall, this study explores the ways in which students exercise agency as they develop symbolic boundaries that are more complex than the binary “white” vs. “nonwhite” in order to attain identity-related goals.


This is the accepted version of Olitsky, S. (2015). Beyond “acting white”: Affirming academic identities by establishing symbolic boundaries through talk. Urban Education. 50(8), 961-988. DOI: 10.1177/0042085914536999 The original publication is available at:

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