Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Gray, Jonathan


We place deficit-model labels on students who fall behind educational expectations and standards. Public discourses about underserved students pervade U.S-American politics and popular culture and tend to portray these students in a negative light. This study aims to uncover similarities between the dominant societal narratives about underserved students and the stories they tell about themselves on social media. I argue that the labels we use and stories we tell about underserved students affect the students’ identities. I ask three research questions: How, if at all, do underserved college students replicate dominant narratives about education in their self-narrations? How, if at all, do students enrolled in developmental education describe other underserved students? How, if at all, do former underserved college students replicate dominant narratives about education in their self-narrations? I analyzed posts from thirty underserved students on social media sites and the replies in their comments from people who have completed developmental education. I used a combination of critical rhetoric (McKerrow, 1989; 1993), intersubjective rhetoric (Brummett, 1976; 1982), and narrative reasoning (Fisher, 1984) to guide data collection and analysis. Results indicate that the students whose narratives appear in this study express shame and worry about taking developmental courses. Their narratives reflect dominant societal narratives about “remedial” students. The narratives analyzed for this study reflect some of the pejorative uses of the word “remedial” and the image of underserved students portrayed in the dominant societal narrative. The students express shame and worry about their futures and academic prospects. Many former underserved students shared their own stories and offered supportive messages in their replies.




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