Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Gary L. Hansen


Social institutions in rural communities tend to be highly interrelated and social ties tend to be dense and multiplex. Human ecological theoretical models posit that all institutions in which an individual is embedded interact in complex ways. As such, this dissertation examines the influences of school, faith, family, and risk contexts on the grade point averages of students who attended school in nonmetropolitan counties in Appalachian Kentucky. Using data disaggregated by gender from nearly 5,000 adolescents, I identified risk and protective factors on grade point averages by attraction type (exclusively opposite-sex attracted, same-sex attracted, and unsure of attraction), identified differences in grade point averages between attraction types, and identified mediators and moderators of the relationship between attraction type and grade point average. School belonging positively influenced the grade point averages of unsure males and religious belief negatively influenced the grade point averages of same-sex attracted males. In general, sexual minority students reported lower grade point averages than their exclusively opposite-sex attracted peers. Among same-sex attracted males and females, this disparity in grade point average was mediated by school belonging. Among unsure males the variation in grade point average was largely explained by engagement in risk behaviors. The relationship between sexual attraction and grade point average was moderated by religiosity, marijuana use, and labor market optimism.