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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