Becoming “Open-Minded”: The Construction of Moral Identity in Higher Education

Abstract: Higher education aspirations and attainment supposedly signal moral virtues lacked by the less educated. But what role do campuses play in producing such distinctions and what impact do they have on students’ moral identities? I argue that colleges and universities construct archetypes of the good student and educated person that enable and constrain students’ claims to virtuous identity. Drawing on data from an elite university, including archival sources and observations and interviews with Muslim students, I show how the university constructed the archetypal educated person as “open-minded.” While most respondents aligned themselves with this dominant archetype, a minority depicted safeguarding one’s principles as the real mark of virtue, seemingly jeopardizing their moral status on campus. These findings illustrate how colleges and universities help to produce the shared meaning of higher education while also demonstrating that identity work on campus involves negotiating the virtues associated with being educated.