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Integrating Identities: Ethnic and Academic Identities Among Diverse College Students


by Lovey H.M. Walker & Moin Syed — 2013

Background/Context: Students of Color continue to be underrepresented at the undergraduate level. Recent research has demonstrated the importance of non-academic psychosocial factors for understanding college experiences. One factor, identity, is a broad, multidimensional construct that comprises numerous distinct domains, including political, religious, gender, ethnic, and academic identities. Two identity domains that are particularly relevant for college Students of Color are ethnic and academic identities.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In the present study we focused on identity development processes in college and how they differ between Students of Color and White students. Specifically, our study examined four hypotheses: Compared with White students, Students of Color would 1) report higher levels of ethnic identity and 2) endorse higher levels of ethnic-academic identity integration, and that the group difference in ratings of ethnic-academic identity integration would be both 3) mediated and 4) moderated by ethnic identity.

Research Design: This study was a cross-sectional survey of 282 college students in the U.S. (69% women, M age = 19.65, SD =2.78, Range = 18-39; 90% born in the U.S.). Participants were categorized as either White (54%) or as a Student of Color (47%). Participants completed rating-scale measures of ethnic identity exploration and commitment, academic identity, and ethnic-academic identity integration.

Findings/Results: Findings in the study supported our four hypotheses: 1) Students of Color reported higher levels of ethnic identity than White students, 2) Students of Color reported greater integration between their ethnic and academic identities than White students, 3) this difference was partially explained by Students of Color having stronger ethnic identities than White students, and 4) ethnic identity moderated the relation between ethnicity and ethnic-academic identity integration, such that ethnic identity predicts greater ethnicity-academic identity integration for Students of Color and White students, but the association is stronger for Students of Color.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Ethnic minority college students endorse higher levels of integration between their ethnic background and academic major. The ability for students to integrate their ethnic and academic identities may provide students with a sense of belonging during their college years. Both ethnicity and the academic environment play a role in the ways in which students feel belonging and pursue their academic careers. Thus, it is important to examine experiences of belonging in an academic context.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 8, 2013, p. 1-24
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17074, Date Accessed: 12/14/2017 9:31:55 PM

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About the Author
  • Lovey Walker
    University of Minnesota
    E-mail Author
    LOVEY H. M. WALKER is a graduate student in the Department of Psychology’s Counseling Psychology program at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Her research interests include identity development, belonging, and issues concerning diversity in higher education.
  • Moin Syed
    University of Minnesota
    E-mail Author
    MOIN SYED is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. His research is broadly concerned with identity development among ethnically and culturally-diverse adolescents and emerging adults, with particular focus on the development of multiple personal and social identities (e.g., ethnicity, social class, and gender) and the implications of identity development for educational experiences and career orientation. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Identity Development.
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