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Pedagogy and the Human Sciences


Unexamined use of ubiquitous terms such as “at risk” in education and human service courses can lead to reifying raced, classed, and gendered deficit perspectives of youth and youth work. This paper examines the social construction of the term “at risk,” following students in four education and human services undergraduate and graduate courses and the work of two counselor and teacher educators as they engaged their students in the process of deconstructing and interrogating this term. Findings reveal that students enter the classroom with raced and classed assumptions of who is at risk. Students demonstrate a deficit orientation that contextualizes risk at the individual level, with students’ definitions of “at risk” often not including white youth engaged in risk behaviors. By engaging in explicitly taught critical inquiry and analysis of the discourses of risk, students began to voice more critical views of the term “at risk,” understand the socially constructed nature of the concept, and adopt a more systemic perspective of the social and political implications for educational and human service practice.


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