Laura Hernandez

Major and Classification


Faculty Mentor

  • Miranda Barone, Ph.D.


  • Psychology

McNair Project

Female Gang Members Social, Cultural, and Economic Motives for Joining Gangs in South Central Los Angeles

When hearing the words “gang” and “gang member”, violence and crime are often associated with the two terms. For the most part these associations are justified; however focusing on this relationship will cause one to miss out on more significant relationships. It is easy to view gang members as separate from ‘us’ and to accuse them of lacking maturity, morals, and most of all rationale. However, after reviewing the research, and learning about these individual’s environments and personal experiences it makes perfect sense that they would decide to join a gang. There are a variety of social, political, and economic reasons why youth join gangs. The majority flock to gangs in order to escape physical abuse, emotional abuse, poverty, and family instability. They strive to gain a strong support system, a means of supporting themselves, along with some adventure. The existing research on gangs is very valuable; however most of it focuses on males in large urban cities. Because of this my research focuses solely on female gang members (and ex-gang members) in the smaller tourist community of Santa Barbara, CA. I will investigate female’s motives for joining gangs and see how they compare to the motives found in existing research.