Stages in the development of students’ social identity
In the previous episode, we discussed intellectual development. Today we are going to talk about social identity development.
Identity is another crucial aspect that can affect learning. The development of identity involves psychological changes that influence behaviours. According to German-American psychologist Erik H. Erikson, the basic premise of identity theory is that identity is not given. Identity needs to be achieved and continually negotiated as individuals try to balance developmental tensions and move forward in their lives. For students, their identity development starts when they start to question values and assumptions instilled by parents and society and begin to develop their own values and priorities.
When we analyse the case of college students, one aspect of student identity development that is particularly noticeable is social identity. It is the extent and nature of their identification with certain social groups. Numerous studies have been done on social identity in relation to race and ethnicity. All these studies show similar trajectories, culminating with establishing a positive social identity as a member of a specific group.
Identity is a crucial aspect that can affect learning.
In 1992, Rita Hardiman and Bailey Jackson proposed a social development identity model that describes two developmental paths – one for the minority and one for the dominant groups. The first stage of the Hardiman-Jackson model is the naïve stage. This stage corresponds to early childhood, devoid of any preconception or prejudice. Even though they see differences in people they observe, they do not attach value to them. For example, they see that the skin colour of two individual s is different, but they do not connect any value of beauty or smartness there. However, in the second stage, through continuous and systematic societal reinforcement, conscious or unconscious acceptance of specific messages about different groups get enforced in their minds. For example, the socially constructed ideas about which group is beautiful, intelligent, healthy, and so on. Both minority and dominant groups accept broader societal attitudes in this stage.
The second stage might have a negative impact on minority groups. They may have a negative attitude about themselves. For example, internalised racism, homophobia and sexism, and there is a chance that they might behave as to conform to the dominant image.
Many students stop at this stage unless their views are challenged by different perspectives or information or from working with people from other groups. If their opinions and beliefs are challenged, they move to a stage of resistance. At this stage, members of the dominant group may experience shame and guilt about the privilege resulting from their own membership. At the same time, minority groups tend to experience pride in their identity. They start to value their group more than the dominant one. These students might also go through a phase called immersion in which they prefer to socialise with members of their own group and withdraw from others.
If students successfully go past this stage, they will arrive at more sophisticated stages like redefinition and internalisation. They redefine their sense of self and move beyond the minority-dominant dichotomy in this stage. They will no longer experience guilt, shame or anger. Instead, they might commit themselves to working for justice in their spheres.
In the next episode, we will talk about course climate.