International Students Confront US Conceptions of Race and Racial Identity

Dr. Chrystal George Mwangi, a new UMass faculty member in the Higher Education program in our department, spokChrystal Georg Mwangie to a recent Tuesday Dialogue about her research with African and Caribbean students studying in the U.S.


Her research revealed that international students arrive in the United States with racial and cultural orientations specific to their country of origin which are often quite distinct from the conceptions of race and racism within the U.S. context.  When asked about race, international students are much more likely to respond that they are Ghanaians or Jamaicans than they are to identify as being part of a particular racial group.  Many such students resist being identified as a member of a racial minority in the U.S. 


Her work traced patterns of “racialization” as these students confronted the construction of racial identity that is prevalent in America.  Some students gradually begin to shift their conceptions of their race based on treatment they experience, while others resist any change in their concept of themselves.  The results led Dr. Mwangi to develop a framework of “Learning Race in a U.S. Context” which she continues to study in her ongoing research.


Her presentation stimulated a lively dialogue among CIE students with Africans and Asians offering a variety of opinions which reflected many of the beliefs which Dr. Mwangi had documented in her study.  The discussion highlighted  several areas of tension between Black Americans and international students of color as they experienced different concepts of race and racial identity.  All who were there gained insignts into the different ways in which various societies construct the meaning of race and racial identity.