Taking the Picture out of the Frame: A Multidimensional Approach to Racial Identity



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This study explored the multidimensional racial identity of African American undergraduate students at a predominantly white institution (PWI). Racial identity has progressed from models of stage development to a premise that there is no optimal mental development that black individuals must achieve. However, most racial identity models are still operationalized through the use of surveys, which do not provide in-depth meaning behind individuals? racial attitudes. The multidimensional model of racial identity (MMRI) as the theoretical framework of this study posits racial identity through four dimensions (centrality, ideology, regard, and salience), but it is normally operationalized through the multidimensional inventory of black identity (MIBI).

Through purposive sampling six African American students were recruited and case study methodology encompassed semi-structured interviews using direct survey items as the protocol in order to create critical discourse. Data collection also included reflection journals and multiple observations in the campus environment to explore the situational component of salience. Each dimension was analyzed independently and dimensions were also cross analyzed to conceptualize the PWI environment?s influence on students? racial beliefs.

Findings on racial centrality revealed the intersectionality of students? core identities and how black identity acted as a filter for interpreting the PWI environment. Racial ideology gave evidence to the PWI?s racial dichotomy through students? involvement in either mainstream/traditional student organizations or racially-based organizations. Participants? affiliations highlighted disconnect in the black student community based on involvement norms and the strong presence of white ideologies in campus traditions. Racial regard findings revealed how knowledge of public group stigmas allowed students to avoid the internalization of those images in their private regard of black group membership. Data on racial salience provided understanding of racially salient moments in campus events and students? perceptions of institutional support. Dimensions separately as well as collectively generated implications for changes needed in practice in order to move beyond diversity rhetoric. This comprehensive qualitative study aids higher education professionals in acknowledging the role of representative that black student leaders must negotiate. It also highlights the need for constructivist approaches in future research to explore the racial realities of student of color.