Faith and chai : exploring sense of belonging and intersections of cultural and spiritual identities in South Asian American college students




Samuel, Justin Thankachan

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South Asian Americans (SAAs) are a burgeoning subpopulation in higher education settings. SAAs are not a monolithic group; they are affiliated with a variety of linguistic, immigration, socioeconomic, and spiritual identities. Furthermore, SAA spiritual identities have been increasingly minoritized and racialized in post-9/11 America, creating challenges unique to this group. The purpose of this study was to explore how SAA collegians experience a sense of belonging and navigate the intersections of their cultural and spiritual identities on campus. The point-of-entry model for Asian American identity consciousness (Accapadi, 2012) and the model of belonging for privileged and minoritized students (Vaccaro & Newman, 2016) were used as conceptual frameworks to ground the study. 12 SAA college students participated in this qualitative, phenomenological inquiry. Interviews, photovoice technique, and journal entries were used as instruments to collect data.

In considering the larger phenomenon of SAA collegians’ identity navigation and experience of belonging, three key findings emerged from the data. They included: (1) family serving as a primary source of support; (2) student organizations being a critical vehicle for spiritual identity exploration and belonging; and (3) a universal understanding that SAA solidarity is essential for community advocacy. Implications from the study were incorporated into a conceptual model and involved a need for further research on SAA collegians; institutional support for recruitment of SAA faculty and staff members and ongoing cultural competency training for higher education professionals; and promotion of community-building among SAA collegians.


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