Layal Wiltgren

Associate Professor

What are the problems high-performing students with minority ethnic backgrounds encounter at school, and why are staff unaware of them? My research focuses on ethnicity and polite exclusion in school.

I defended my thesis in 2014, at Child studies at Linköping University. Currently, I work at the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning (IBL), where I teach and am course coordinator for a number of course in the Teacher Education Programme.

My research focuses on ethnicity in schools, both as a source of strength, and a cause of exclusion, in various school contexts.

The education system is often described in terms of being the gateway to success in Swedish society. But good grades and school achievements don't automatically lead to inclusion and acceptance.

Rather, high-performing students with experiences of migration describe a social exclusion from peers they term "the Swedes." Even though no one is outwardly abusive, students with minority ethnic backgrounds describe a subtle distancing, avoidance, and social exclusion.

This type of non-obvious acts I term "polite exclusion," a collection of subtle verbal and non-verbal acts directed at minorities. These acts do not necessarily stem from bad intentions, but they are hurtful to those exposed to them.

At the same time, school staff describe the class in question as inclusive and a group where everyone is accepted regardless of their background. How can we understand this discrepancy in how students describe their social reality compared to how staff describe the same student body?

This is the core of numerous of my articles, where I explore these divergent experiences and descriptions of a single class environment, where teachers' color blind approach renders them unable to note the polite exclusion their students experience, and connect with their ethnic background. This study is based on participant observation in, and follow-up interviews with, a well-reputed, high-performing high school class, and their teachers and administrative staff. 


Career Highlights 

  • Dual degree in psychology and social anthropology
  • Doctoral degree from Tema Barn
  • Prize for Year's Best Thesis at Linköping University
  • Project leader for the FORTE-financed study "High-performing Students with Migrant Backgrounds: Identities and Success Strategies)
Career Highlights:



Layal Kasselias Wiltgren (2023) So incredibly equal: how polite exclusion becomes invisible in the classroom British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 44, p. 435-451 Continue to DOI


Layal Wiltgren (2022) Polite exclusion: high-performing immigrant students experience of peer exclusion Race Ethnicity and Education, Vol. 25, p. 443-459 Continue to DOI


Layal Kasselias Wiltgren (2021) Inte så farligt egentligen: Hur subtil exkludering blir osynlig i klassrummet Utbildning och Lärande / Education and Learning, Vol. 15, p. 71-87 Continue to DOI


Layal Kasselias Wiltgren (2020) Subtil exkludering: Exkludering av högpresterande elever med utländsk bakgrund i en innerstadsskola Pedagogisk forskning i Sverige, Vol. 25, p. 49-68 Continue to DOI


Layal Kasselias Wiltgren (2017) Doing ethnicity: Ethnic wordplay amongst youths Childhood, Vol. 24, p. 333-347 Continue to DOI


Earlier Research:

My earlier research focuses on the interplay between ethnicity, gender, and norms, and how these influence students' social space in school. My project explore school in both socially disadvantaged areas, as well as well-reputed schools in privileged areas.

Thesis Research:

My thesis is based on a year-long fieldwork in a socially disadvantaged high school, and focuses on how students use multilingualism and ethnic categories as resources, and their creative ways to use humor, laughter, teasing interplay and irony to challenge and strengthen each other, and display community.