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School as a Context for “Othering” Youth and Promoting Cultural Assets


by Noah E. Borrero, Christine J. Yeh, Crivir I. Cruz & Jolene F. Suda — 2012

Background/Context: Schools are cultural contexts that have the power and potential to promote students’ cultural assets or “other” youth in a way that keeps them from creating meaningful academic identities. In this study, we build on existing research and theory by defining “othering” as a personal, social, cultural, and historical experience involving (a) cultural and racial ambiguity, (b) categorization and labeling, (c) hierarchical power dynamics, and (d) limited access to resources. In addition, we further define and understand youths’ cultural assets from a collectivistic perspective. We are interested in identifying and understanding community and indigenous strengths of “othered” youth as embedded in social and ecological systems.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: We used an ecological approach to dissect the experiences of “othered” youth through an investigation of their marginalization and assets. The questions guiding this research explore how “othered” students make sense of stereotypes and racism in the school context: How are these incidents handled? What are the norms in school for dealing with racialized and cultural encounters? What are the buffers or factors that may help students maintain a sense of cultural pride in the face of marginalization? What cultural assets emerge in schools and how are they related to students’ experiences with “othering?”

Research Design: This sequential 18-month qualitative study included observations and interviews. Multi-informant data with ten Native Hawaiian adolescents and five teachers and counselors of Native Hawaiian youth were used in an attempt to give voice to their experiences in urban public schools in Hawaii. These two perspectives provide points of convergence and divergence in conceptualizing how schools “other” youth. Grounded theory and Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR) were used to generate themes that arose from student interviews that were then compared with interview data from school personnel. These separate, but related data sources offered perspectives across generations, power relationships, and cultural identities.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Our findings revealed five emergent themes: multiple identities, stereotypes, racism, coping strategies for racism, and cultural pride that highlight cultural assets and experiences with being the “other” at school. We discuss these findings in terms of how they relate to our definition of “othering” and from an ecological and relationally informed approach to community and cultural assets that are reciprocal and interactive. We call on practitioners and researchers alike to provide opportunities that promote and reinforce indigenous strengths in schools.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 2, 2012, p. 1-37
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16246, Date Accessed: 10/23/2014 3:13:48 PM

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About the Author
  • Noah Borrero
    University of San Francisco
    E-mail Author
    NOAH E. BORRERO is assistant professor and director of the Urban Education and Social Justice Program in the Teacher Education Department at the University of San Francisco. He holds a PhD from Stanford University in educational psychology. His research interests include school-community connections, academic identities, and urban education. He has recently co-authored a book with Shawn Bird entitled Closing the Achievement Gap: How to Pinpoint Student Strengths to Differentiate Instruction and Help Your Striving Readers Succeed (2009, Scholastic).
  • Christine Yeh
    University of San Francisco
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTINE J. YEH is professor and chair in the Department of Counseling Psychology at the University of San Francisco. She holds a PhD from Stanford University in counseling psychology. Her research interests include immigrant students’ cultural adjustment in urban schools, school-based mental health services, and ecological approaches to ethnic identity. She has recently co-edited a book with Hardin Coleman entitled Handbook of School Counseling (2008, Taylor & Francis: Routledge).
  • Crivir Cruz
    University Laboratory School
    E-mail Author
    CRIVIR I. CRUZ is currently a College and Career Teacher/Advisor at the University Laboratory School in Honolulu, Hawaii. Ms. Cruz has a Master’s degree in International Educational Development from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York and a Bachelor's degree in Global and International Studies and Sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her main areas of interest include diversity, multicultural education, international development, social justice, underrepresented populations, and education access.
  • Jolene Suda
    Honolulu Community College
    E-mail Author
    JOLENE F. SUDA is the TRIO-SSS Project Director at Honolulu Community College. She holds a Bachelor's of Arts degree in History from Colorado State University and a Master's in Education (Education Administration/Higher Education) from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. In addition, she is working towards attaining her PhD in Education. Her education and career endeavors are to continue working with the underrepresented populations (first generation, low income and disabled) in Hawaii.
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