Biracial Identity and the College Social Environment: A Comparison of Black-White Biracial Students at Predominantly White and Historically Black Institutions Open Access

Clayton, Kristen (2011)

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The majority of the extant research on biracial identity focuses on documenting and describing the variety of ways in which individuals of mixed black and white ancestry identify while paying substantially less attention to the social factors that affect biracial identity development. This study aimed to address this gap in the literature by examining some of the ways social context affects biracial identity; this study specifically examined the effect of college racial composition on black-white biracial students' racial identity construction and maintenance. In this paper I draw upon the transcripts of twenty-two taped interviews with biracial men and women who were currently attending one of three schools (an all male historically black college and university, an all female HBCU, and a co-educational predominantly white institution) to show how the racial composition of the institutions affected students' racial identities. Analysis of the interviews showed cross-institutional differences in students' identity development and maintenance. HBCU students were much more likely than PWI students to report changes in their racial identity as a result of college. Moreover, HBCU students were more likely than their PWI counterparts to experience an identity change in the direction of a stronger black identity. Students' changes in identity were related to the racial composition of the school as well as the peer and academic cultures of the institutions. This study suggests a powerful link between social structure and biracial identity that warrants further exploration.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Historical Understandings of Race and Biracial Individuals' Place in the United States Racial Hierarchy 3

Past and Present Frameworks for Understanding Biracial Identity Development 6

Symbolic Interactionism: The Fluid Nature of Identity 8

The Effect of Social Networks on Racial Identification 10

Methodology 14

Findings 25

Implications/Future Directions 71

References 76

Appendix A: Profile of Research Sample 78

Appendix B: Changes in Identity as a Result of College 80

Appendix C: Interview Guide 82

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