Social Identity and Distinction in Elite Higher Education

My first project, drawing on data from an elite university—including archival sources and observations and interviews with Muslim students—explores the discourses animating American higher education and their significance for student identity and social inequality. Drawing on social identity perspectives, I show how colleges and universities help to construct the prototypical student as “open-minded,” a prototype that Muslim students link to being a good Muslim in order to validate their identities. At the same time, respondents’ identity strategies leveraged social comparisons to others perceived as closed-minded, including fellow Muslims that respondents’ marginalized–thereby reinforcing dominant Muslim stereotypes. In a separate paper, I argue that the discourse of openness at elite colleges and universities actually serves to reinforce the distinction of dominant groups on campus. By placing the burden on minority students to educate their peers, that discourse reinforces the symbolic segregation of minority students.