Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Dr. Shoshana Pollack

Advisor Role

Supervisor and chair of dissertation committee

Second Advisor

Dr. Uzo Anucha

Advisor Role

Member, Dissertation committee

Third Advisor

Dr. Magnus Mfoafor- M'Carthy

Advisor Role

Member Dissertation committee


This dissertation examined experiences of alienation among Black African youth in Waterloo region schools. This study is timely and relevant considering the rapid influx of Black Africans into the region in response to government initiatives to redirect immigrants to smaller communities. The research addressed the dearth of scholarship on experiences of Black Africans outside the major metropolitan areas by employing Afrocentric and critical race theories to explore relationships between race and youth experiences of alienation. The dissertation study utilized elder facilitated youth dialogue forum (adaptation of focus group) and in-depth storytelling (which honours African orality) to access the meanings seventeen youth ascribe to their school experiences. The efficacy of dialogic methods to facilitate deep structural analysis of Black youth’s complex ontological realities is a significant methodological contribution of the research.

The study’s finding that Black youth make conscious decisions to exit the school system in the interest of their safety, health, and sanity aided the development of the concept of “sanity break” which is a major contribution to the literature. The sanity break concept builds on dropout and pushout notions by illuminating the self-determination in youths’ decision to leave school. The concept attempts to re-right hegemonic “writing” of Black African youth which obfuscates the dynamics of their meaning-making, resistance and agency illustrated by taking “sanity breaks” to avoid trauma for their Black bodies, shame to their families or undesirable life outcomes.

The imperative of policy and practice reforms such as hiring Black teachers and integrating African epistemology into the curriculum to keep pace with demographic shifts in the region are highlighted. The dissertation concludes with recommendations to facilitate contextualized responses to the United Nations declaration of the years, 2015 - 2024 as the decade for people of African origin.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season